Ajax focuses on title after cup loss

Ajax focuses on title after cup loss

Ajax has been dethroned from their position as cup holder. The team from Amsterdam squandered a 2-0 lead against FC Twente in Rotterdam. The ‘Tukkers’ made a complete comeback during the second extra time: 3-2. “In the end, I saw enough positive things to allow me to hope for a win next week”, said Ajax coach Frank de Boer in retrospect on the lost cup final, and looking forward to the last competition match.

Disappointed to the core, Ajax received their runner up medals after the final match. The fact that they had frittered away a strong lead made the loss even more bitter. The Tukkers celebrated their cup win in the same jubilant fashion that Ajax had done last season, after their double win against Feyenoord in the cup finals.

Most of the 12.500 Ajax fans who had made the trip had left the stadium before the awards ceremony. They returned to the busses which had made such an imposing impression before the match, forming a long row coming from Amsterdam. The atmosphere in the sold out stadium had an overwhelming effect during the final. The supporters groups put up a good, mostly verbal, fight.

Despite both teams’ fighting spirit, the 93rd cup final was a tense affair. The nervous pressure was most likely caused by thoughts of next week, when the battle for the national championship will take place in a simmering Amterdam ArenA. Days before the championship match, both clubs were reluctant to suffer any damage or lose face in the Maasstad.

As the tension increased, the true leaders revealed themselves. Demy de Zeeuw proved invaluable with his experienced play and opening goal. The midfielder scored the first goal from far out: 0-1. He seemed to help Ajax over a difficult phase with this goal, and their nerves seemed to settle down afterwards. Lorenzo Ebecilio’s goal had an even greater effect. The “Ajax side” of the stadium exploded after the 0-1; at 0-2, an even bigger euphoria broke loose.

But the euphoria dissolved shortly before halftime. Wout Brama found his way through the Ajax defence, and defeated keeper Kenneth Vermeer, flawless until then, 1-2. Ajax had given away their first goal against very easily. The ‘Tukkers’ came out after the break with an improved perspective on the cup championship. That moment proved to be a breaking point in the match. “You walk into the locker room differently than if you had a 2-0 lead”, said De Boer. “People were hanging their heads, but we were still in the lead. But Brama shouldn’t have gotten through so easily with a one-two. But we were playing indifferently right then and didn’t keep the lines closed.”

Kenneth Vermeer kept a cool head during the most critical times for Ajax. The keeper made more than one outstanding save after the break, among which an attempt from the unstoppable Nacer Chadli. But, even the excellent Vermeer couldn’t stop Theo Janssen’s header to make it 2-2. Once again, the Amsterdam defence had holes in it. The lefty from Twente had all the time and space in the world to do what he needed to do. Janssen took his time and planted the ball into the corner. Michel Preud’Homme’s team had not only pulled even with their opponents from Amsterdam, but they were fired up with new confidence. In the second half, Ajax escaped attempts from Bryan Ruiz (wide header), Chadli (save by Vermeer) and Luuk de Jong (wide header). Former Ajax player Sander Boschker had luck on his side when Ebecilio’s attempt hit the post.
In the subsequent extra time, substitute Daley Blind’s header hit the crossbar above Boschker.

Twente’s goalie also made a good save on Siem de Jong’s razor sharp attempt. The final went from goal to goal in the second extra time, which Vermeer proved later on. The Ajax player neutralised a long distance shot from Twente back Bart Buysse.

Finally, it wasn’t enough to earn Ajax its nineteenth cup in the club’s history. Four minutes before the end of additional time, substitute Marko Janko’s header hit the mark. The Austrian player brought home his team’s third cup. “He shouldn’t be able to send a header in so easily, even though there was a questionable free kick beforehand”, said De Boer about the disastrous 3-2. “But with a bit more luck, we could have decided the cup final in our favour. I’m definitely proud of the team. Despite the pressure from Twente, we kept playing our game. We had more possession and played well under pressure. We dominated at times. I’ve seen enough positive things to allow me to hope for a win next week.”

Ajax will have to recover from this setback and get ready for the championship match against FC Twente. Perhaps the disappointment with serve as the extra motivation they need to beat Twente for the championship.

Watch Ajax TV for a summary of the cup final.