Ajax ended a disastrous football week on Wednesday by being eliminated from the KNVB Cup tournament. Soon after their European elimination, Ajax was kept away from the KNVB Cup finals by AZ: 0-3. Ajax thus ended a disastrous week true to form: missed opportunities and yet elimination from a football podium.
Ajax coach Frank de Boer had changed his team heavily in comparison to the last Eredivisie and UEFA Europa League matches. Half of the usual squad players on the team were on the bench at the start of the match. Mitchell Dijks started as left back. Danny Hoesen was centre forward, and Thulani Serero was entrusted with the spot of left half. Derk Boerrigter and Jody Lukoki started as wing forwards. Jasper Cillessen naturally started in goal, as he does for every cup match. The fact that Ajax will face FC Twente on Saturday in a competition game definitely also
‘Cup Ajax’ faced a determined AZ in the lively, passionate Amsterdam ArenA. In the reasonably filled stadium, the support of VAK 410 and the F-Side was especially uplifting. Ajax’s core fans supported the home team from start to finish.
The Alkmaar team is experiencing a disappointing season. AZ is performing far below its level and is only a handful of points away from having to play post-competition football. Gertjan Verbeek’s AZ team didn’t have much to lose in the KNVB Cup semi-finals. Moreover: a spot in the cup finals would give a bit of sheen to the otherwise lackluster season. Ajax is completely wrapped up in the fight for the title, but would love to win its nineteenth cup. “The cup is a prize that we really want to win”, De Boer had put Ajax’s cup ambitions into words earlier.
Lasse Schöne made an attempt to score in the seventh minute. The Dane disposed handily of AZ captain Nick Viergever with a fake move, after which keeper Esteban was just able to grab the dangerous shot. Two minutes later, something occurred that was reminiscent of the last home game against ADO Den Haag. On Sunday, a clean goal was disqualified by the referees, and this time, hands by Viergever remained unpunished. AZ thus escaped a penalty kick.
Ajax had luck on its side when Adam Maher came into a good position but sent his shot just wide. Considering his strengths, the Dutch team international by all rights should have scored. The offensive waves alternated in direction between each goal. AZ escaped once again when Niklas Moisander extended Schöne’s free kick onto the post. As Serero’s shot went long, the first half remained scoreless. Not surprising, considering that Ajax has had a hard time scoring recently. In all fairness, Ajax should have scored a goal by halftime of this North Holland derby.
With the knowledge that PSV had qualified for the KNVB Cup finals, which take place on Thursday, May 9, earlier that evening (0-3 win against PEC Zwolle), the provincial derby remained undecided for a long time. After an hour of play, it was clear that Ajax lacked finesse and precision, chiefly in terms of finishing. Hoesen, Lukoki and Serero had opportunities, but these either went wide or over. ‘Cup Ajax’ mostly seemed to be longing for common sense and effectiveness.
Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Viktor Fischer were the substitutes who were meant to give Ajax back a few missing elements. The Iceland and Denmark natives replaced Hoesen and Lukoki.
With Sigthórsson, Ajax finally had the required playing point out in front. Schöne came close to scoring with a long shot from twenty meters out. Esteban prevented the opening goal from happening.
Two minutes later, AZ hit gold. Centre forward Jozy Altidore’s close range header went in, after a perfect pass by Maher from the back line. The Alkmaar goal sent the already cold temperatures in the ArenA spiraling downwards. Not even a week after European elimination at the hands of Steaua Bucharest, another potential elimination hung like a dark cloud over the Ajax stadium.
Siem de Jong was Ajax’s last substitution, which was meant to turn the tide of the match. The Amsterdam team was battling the Alkmaar team as well as the mercilessly ticking clock. It was not De Jong, but another substitute who made an indelible mark on the cup match. Five minutes after coming in, Johann Berg Gudmundsson scored the fatal 0-2 goal with a low shot. The AZ player had been sent in deep by Altidore, who, before making the pass, seemed to make hands. Altidore is the one who scored the final goal in extra time, 0-3.
“We’ve been having a hard time lately; we’re not in a good place”, said Frank de Boer with disappointment afterwards. The Ajax coach’s glum face spoke volumes. “In the second half, there were 3 or 4 moments in which we just didn’t manage to strike. Those are costly moments. Altidore’s hands before the 0-2 makes it especially bitter. We had dominated for 74 minutes before that. At the end of the day, our ambition was to play in all of the competitions.”
The cup evening against AZ thus ended on a downer. AZ was also the author of Ajax’s cup disqualification last season. Ajax continues to struggle with scoring and, after a dramatic week, they know what they need to focus on: the race for the national championship. This quest continues on Saturday in the Grolsche Veste against FC Twente.