National champion Ajax ended its last Eredivisie performance of 2013-2014 with a tie with NEC on Saturday. In the Amsterdam ArenA, Ajax conceded the tie shortly before the end. The goal was worth its weight in gold for NEC. A handful of trainings and a trip to Indonesia stands between Ajax and its next title quest.
The home game against NEC book-ended a week full of festivities for Ajax. After securing its 33rd national title (last week at Heracles), festivities, parties, celebrations and other ceremonies followed. After a week like that, the only question was how the champagne and short nights would show their effects. The last official match of the season was completely devoid of tension for Ajax, but things were different for NEC. The Nijmegen team faced degradation in the 34th round of play. The second to last placed team needed to stay ahead of Roda JC in order to avoid demotion to the Jupiler League. And they succeeded by the skin of their teeth.
Frank de Boer had changed his squad in several positions after the championship match at Heracles. A few days before the closing of ’13- ’14, the Ajax coach granted a starting spot to Kenneth Vermeer. The keeper is still in the running for a spot in the World Cup selection for the Dutch team. Vermeer – who lost his starting spot earlier this season to Jasper Cillessen – wanted to show what he could do once more for the Dutch national team coach. The keeper found a new duo in front of him, central in the Ajax defense. Mike van der Hoorn was paired with Daley Blind. Midfielder Poulsen had his chance to play in front of the Amsterdam crowd one last time. The veteran announced on Friday that he would be leaving Ajax. Finally, the Ajax offense was formed by Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, Bojan and Ricardo Kishna.
“We need to act like champions”, said De Boer during his press conference on Friday, calling on the brand-new champions’ sense of pride and honour. The sold-out Amsterdam ArenA needed to be entertained, despite the championship which was already in the bag. “We’re playing for around 50.000 people who have always supported us in home games. And you also want the players who are leaving to have a great last game.” The Ajax players took the coach’s words seriously on Saturday. Despite their hard work, they were only mildly successful in entertaining the crowd. After a grueling season, the tank seemed to be empty.
Ajax, wearing a special championship jersey (the classic jersey was decorated with a championship shield for one time), took the lead after only nine minutes. It was unfortunate for NEC. NEC left back Jeffrey Leiwakabessy sent a header from Kishna’s attempt past his own keeper, Kalle Johnsson. Naturally, the Gelderland team, facing degradation, certainly didn’t need a bad play such as that one.
The announcement of the intermediate score caused a sensation with the Nijmegen team. Roda JC had a 0-1 lead at Go Ahead Eagles…
A mistake by Vermeer – the Ajax player sent the ball straight to NEC centre forward Geoffrey Castillion – gave the visitors an unexpected opportunity to score the tying goal. Vermeer made up for his mistake with a great save. One minute later, Bojan shot his attempt onto the crossbar, and Davy Klaassen shot from nearby after that. After that, Ajax didn’t manage to strike and were afflicted with undue sloppiness in the last fifteen minutes before the break. The Amsterdam team operated too slow a pace and didn’t create many opportunities. There was only cheering during the break, when Ajax’s youth teams did their lap of honour around the stands. The annual ritual, which takes place during the last home game, puts Ajax’s talents from de Toekomst in the spotlight. Who knows how many football diamonds-in-the-rough will appear in Ajax 1.
Thulani Serero had Ajax’s second goal at his feet after an hour. The South African teamed up with Sigthórsson to move through NEC’s defense, after which Johnsson, at the last moment, made the save. NEC had renewed hope nine minutes later. Substitute Alireza Jahanbakhsh shot right in from far out: 1-1. The NEC players on the field celebrated thoroughly with the fans in the visitor’s stands. It was a small crowd in the visitors’ stands, considering that 75 Nijmegen fans had been sent away beforehand due to their inappropriate chanting.
With Lucas Andersen (for Kishna), Joël Veltman for Van der Hoorn, and Siem de Jong in for Sigthórsson, Ajax went for the lead in the last fifteen minutes. De Jong’s return was one of the few highlights of this sometimes dull closing match. But the captain’s return had a positive effect. Less than two minutes after he came onto the ArenA grass, Serero sent Bojan in deep. The loaned out FC Barcelona player crowned his spurt by scoring with a low shot: 2-1.
The second goal against seemed to be the final nail in the Nijmegen team’s coffin. The NEC players still regrouped one last time, showed their lion’s courage, and shortly before the end, scored the tying goal. With his second goal of the evening, Jahanbakhsh earned a spot of honour in the list of Nijmegen club heroes. NEC, with a 2-2 tie, ensured itself of a new Eredivisie season. Although Ajax ended the season with a tie, with a championship win, the season has been an undeniable success. Here’s to a new and hopefully equally successful football year!
Christian Poulsen was thanked after the match for his many contributions as an Ajax player. The Dane was addressed by Frank de Boer. Poulsen received several gifts. Lasse Schöne was selected as Ajax Player of the Year. The multi-faceted Dane (who couldn’t play due to an operation on his tonsils) received the Rinus Michels Award. Davy Klaassen was honoured as Talent of the Year. The midfielder received the Marco van Basten Trophy from his coach.