For the first time in four years, Ajax has made it to the round of sixteen in the UEFA Europa League. Away at Legia, Ajax won 0-3. Added to Ajax’s 1-0 win at home, the team earns a berth in the next round. Arek Milik (2x) and Nick Viergever scored the goals in the empty stadium in Warsaw. The win was a great boost going into the upcoming top match against PSV.
For the first time since 2011, Ajax is among the last sixteen teams in an European tournament. That means that the Dutch champion will look forward to another European trip and Europa League evening in the ArenA. And who knows, maybe there will be even more in store in this European tournament. The climax of this EL season will be in Warsaw this season, but ten kilometers away, in the National Stadium.
The way in which Ajax secured its spot in the next round was much simpler than expected. Frank de Boer’s desire to score goals in Warsaw was duly fulfilled in the eleventh minute. Arek Milik, who also had scored the goal in Amsterdam, sent the ball with his right foot convincingly past keeper Dusan Kuciak. It was a beautiful goal, which had started with Jasper Cillessen kicking the ball back into the game and ended with the Polish Ajax centre forward bringing it home into the goal.
Soon after Ajax’s great start, the evening continued to get better. Two minutes after the 0-1 had appeared on the scoreboard, 0-2 - an unheard of luxury. A Ricardo Kishna free kick wasn’t cleared properly by the keeper, and Nick Viergever, who was in perfect position to score, did just that, doubling the lead. After one tie and five European wins at home, it became clear within fifteen minutes that Ajax would break the Polish leader’s undefeated streak.
After Ajax’s quick second goal, the Legia fans’ chanting from outside the stadium had gotten louder. Around one thousand fans of the former military club pushed their team on with fiery encouragement from a square near the Wojska Polskiego Stadium. Because of a sanction, due to disturbances caused by these same fans during the away game against Lokeren, the 31.800 seats in the stadium remained empty. Only reporters and officials witnessed the game in the Polish capital.
Thanks to this win in Poland, Ajax also put an end to a negative record. Since its away win at Manchester United (February 23, 2012), Ajax hasn’t won a single European away match. In addition to that, Ajax hasn’t won two European games in a row since coach Frank de Boer’s initial honeymoon period. Hopefully this is the start of even better things.
Ajax played in pretty much the same configuration as it had the previous week during the first match. Only Joël Veltman replaced Mike van der Hoorn. With veterans Lasse Schöne and Niklas Moisander on the bench, the average age of the team dropped to 22 years. And this young team wasn’t content with a 0-2 lead. Although Legia, after a Ricardo van Rhijn error that he corrected himself, came close to scoring, Ajax increased its lead even more right before halftime. Once again, it was Milik who pulled the trigger. On a pass from Kishna, the Polish international showed his best side in his native country once again. It was his 21st goal in 28 official matches for Ajax.
The second half was something of a write-off. With the 0-3 score on the board, Legia found itself needing to score five goals in forty-five minutes. Basically, an impossible mission. However, the chanting fans outside the stadium continued to encourage the team. It wasn’t until the last ten minutes that Cillessen actually needed to take action when a couple of Polish shots came his way.
With substitute Daley Sinkgraven in for Davy Klaassen – and later, Van der Hoorn for Veltman and Andersen for Kishna – thought shifted to the upcoming match against PSV. Whereas the Eindhoven team went down without any glory to Zenit in Saint-Petersburg, Ajax left the empty stadium feeling great.