Ajax fails to capitalize on opportunities

Ajax fails to capitalize on opportunities

Ajax missed out on the opportunity to pull even with PSV at the top of the Eredivisie rankings. The home game against ADO Den Haag in the Amsterdam ArenA ended in a 1-1 tie. Lasse Schöne earned the Amsterdam team a well-deserved point in the game’s closing minutes.

Shortly before this home game’s kick-off against the Den Haag team, Feyenoord had defeated PSV in de Kuip. Thanks to the Rotterdam team’s 2-1 win, Ajax was given a great opportunity to gain ground on the Eindhoven team. A win against middle-of-the pack ADO would bring Ajax even with PSV in terms of points, at the top of the Eredivisie. On the eve of away games against FC Twente (Saturday) and – later in the competition – PSV, this would have been a great boost. Ajax were longing for success, especially after a disappointing elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Steaua Bucharest.

In addition to the Eredivisie stage, the hunt for the KNVB Cup resumes next Wednesday. On that podium, the prize of honour is still there for the taking. AZ will be the opponent that must be defeated on Wednesday as of 8:45p.m., as Ajax goes for its nineteenth cup victory.

It all went differently against ADO...despite Ajax’s significant dominance in the first half, it was ADO who retreated to the locker room with the lead. The Den Haag team’s lead at the break (0-1) could be called miraculous – especially since it was Ajax who earlier had left opportunity after opportunity on the table. The home team had been closest to scoring when Kolbeinn Sigthórsson’s shot did go as far as behind the goal line, but wasn’t recognized as a goal. Earlier, Viktor Fischer had sent a bullet-like shot just long. On a pass from Daley Blind, Siem de Jong scored too, but his attempt was also disqualified. The reason given by the assistant referee was offside, but this was clearly not the case.

The Amsterdam team had several reasons to complain about the refereeing decisions made by the trio in charge in this game against ADO. But due to its – at times, sloppy- playing style, Ajax really had no one to blame but itself for the disappointing result. The way in which the 0-1 goal came about was illustrative of this. A risky pass by Kenneth Vermeer to Niklas Moisander after half an hour of play was the root of the opening goal. The Finnish defender lost the ball awkwardly to Tjaronn Chery. The Den Haag forward gladly received this gift gratefully, and subsequently spun the ball simply into the empty goal: 0-1.

Suddenly, the home game against ADO was showing similarities with the home game against Roda JC. In that match, the guests also took the lead, against all expectations. The game ended badly for the current champions from Amsterdam; with a tie (1-1).
“We had the sharpness to create opportunities, but we lacked the sharpness to send the ball into the goal”, said Frank de Boer afterwards. The Ajax coach emphasized his team’s positives, and didn’t wish to indulge in complaining about officiating mistakes. “We played to a tie against Roda JC too. We’ve missed out on four points because of these games. Otherwise, we’d be proudly at the top of the rankings now.”

After the goal against, Ajax still had one hour of playing time to work towards a lead – and to take full advantage of PSV’s misfortune. ADO has not been an easy opponent for Ajax this season, as was made clear in the teams’ last meeting in ‘de Residentie’. At that time, soon after Ajax’s defeat against Borussia Dortmund, the game ended in a 1-1 tie. Ryan Babel and Tom Beugelsdijk scored the goals that afternoon. Dyed in the wool Den Haag native Beugelsdijk stood out in the ArenA by successfully turning away two attempts (one in front and one behind his goal line). Knowing that ADO hasn’t won any of its last away games seemed to be to Ajax’s advantage.

Seemed is the key word, since things didn’t turn out the way that the 31 time champions wanted. The Den Haag team, who were hammered 7-0 by PSV earlier this season, held strong for a long time in the ArenA. Santi Kolk came close to scoring another goal for ADO, but the substitute saw Vermeer make the save. Five minutes before the end, it was Lasse Schöne who scored the tying goal. On a pass from Toby Alderweireld, the Danish controller hit the mark with a bullet: 1-1.
It spoke volumes that some Ajax players, after Pol van Boekel had blown the final whistle, walked onto the ArenA grass in disappointment and held their heads bowed during the lap around the field. Ajax sold itself short on Sunday. They once again squandered an opportunity to take full advantage of the situation in this nail-biting championship race. Nonetheless, there was still a win to the afternoon: Ajax gained one point on PSV.

“We got ten one hundred per cent opportunities”, said De Boer. “What more can you ask as a coach? From now on, we need to slam those balls in, get them over the line.”