Ajax’s last home game in the Champions League season ended in disappointment. Ajax suffered a 1-4 defeat against group D leader Borussia Dortmund. Goals by Reus, Götze and Lewandowski provided a 0-3 lead in the first half. Lewandowski scored another goal after the break, and substitute Danny Hoesen scored the only goal for the Amsterdam team. Thanks to Manchester City’s tie with Real Madrid, Ajax remains third in the pool.
Expectations were high beforehand. Ajax had played good football in three of four of its Champions League duels, and Frank de Boer wanted to see more of the same in its last group D home game against Borussia Dortmund. But Ajax was facing a 0-3 deficit by halftime.
Compared to the match that had taken place in Germany, which Ajax lost 0-1 in the final minutes after an excellent performance, there were two changes in Ajax’s line-up. Ryan Babel (shoulder injury) and Tobias Sana were replaced by Eyong Enoh and Jody Lukoki. By placing Christian Poulsen and Eyong Enoh together at midfield, De Boer aimed to give the line more body. “Dortmund has two very creative guys there, met Ilkay Gündogan en Mario Götze. We want to neutralize them”, explained De Boer before kick-off.
But plans went awry in the eight minute, and Ajax was playing catch-up. Poulsen let Marco Reus get away easily after a smart pass from Götze, and he put the ball past Vermeer; 0-1. Ajax needed to improve as they went on a quest for the tying goal, because their aim for the evening, of course, was to safeguard their stay in European football after the winter break. Ajax pressed, but didn’t pose any real danger. Keeper Weidenfeller only struggled with Eriksen’s corner in the 22nd minute, after which the Dane himself, after a blocked shot by Boerrigter, curved the ball over the crossbar. Even though Ajax had more possession, Borussia transitioned with lightning speed. After half an hour, Götze seemed to be heading for goal number 2, but he stumbled on the ball. But, six minutes later, he didn’t make the same mistake. On his own, the twenty year old German international sent Ricardo van Rhijn on a wild goose chase and, sending his shot between Ajax right back and Toby Alderweireld, scored the second goal, 0-2. Five minutes before the break, Ajax saw its chances for a positive result evaporate. Scoring machine Robert Lewandowski reacted alertly when Vermeer had warded off a Götze shot which had changed directions; 0-3.
In the second half, De Boer tried to give the situation a better outlook by switching Poulsen for Lasse Schöne. The outstanding Christian Eriksen seemed poised to score the first Ajax goal in the 51st minute by ticking the ball past the keeper, but his shot was too soft to catch Weidenfeller off guard. In the 53rd minute, the Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca pointed to the spot to award a penalty to Dortmund. Götze had fallen over Moisander’s leg. Proenca changed his mind quickly and instead gave the German player a yellow card.
After about an hour, De Boer brought in a true centre forward with Danny Hoesen. Enoh, whose elbow had bumped Bender’s nose hard with his elbow during a collision, was taken off the field. Bender was unable to continue and was replaced by Ivan Perisic. Ajax still had several opportunities. In the 66th minute, Jody Lukoki’s pass was just too high for Eriksen, and on the rebounded ball, Schöne shot into the German keeper’s hands. On the opposite side of the field, it was a different story. Lewandowski had all the time in the world to score the fourth German goal on a Götze pass: 0-4.
After that, Ajax still continued to try and had a decent chance in the 78th minute. Fischer, in for Boerrigter, shot a pass from Blind right in, but Weidenfeller once again spoiled the party. But the home team did manage to defeat him once. Via Neven Subotic’s leg, Hoesen’s shot ended up against the ropes, far out of the goalie’s reach; 1-4. After that, Ajax recovered some of its dynamism, but with just five minutes left to play, a victory was out of reach. De Boer was realistic afterwards: “We saw a good bit of efficiency. We did far too little with the possession we had, we didn’t have any power. If I analyze all four goals, then three of those could have been prevented. I blame us for that. You need to be better if you want to be on the Champions League stage.”
Thus, the game in which De Boer had wanted to see the team ‘bursting with belief’, ended in a disappointing fashion, and Dortmund, who – just like all of the other German teams in the Champions League – qualified for the next Champions League round, and left Amsterdam with three points. Klopp was complimentary afterwards: “Ajax played a brave game according to its own philosophy. That’s the way we want to do it, too.”
On December 4, Ajax plays its last group match, against Real Madrid, who has also qualified for the following round.