On Wednesday night, Ajax qualified for the Champions League tournament, for the first time since 2005. The second play- off match against Dinamo Kiev ended in a 2-1 win for Ajax. After a 1-1 tie in Kiev, Martin Jol’s team proved to be the better one in two matches, earning the coveted Champions League spot.
Under the Amsterdam ArenA’s closed roof, celebrations broke out at ten-thirty. Vertonghen flew into Stekelenburg’s arms, and Suarez leaped into the air. Martin Jol took the microphone and thanked the crowd. Finally, after a long drought, Ajax will finally be able to measure themselves against the best 32 teams in Europe. After unsuccessful attempts in 2006 (FC Copenhagen) and 2007 (Slavia Prague), the year 2010 can be added to the list of successes. On Thursday evening, the draw will take place and Ajax will know with which three teams it will be placed in the Champions League pool.
Compared to the away game in Kiev (1-1), Ajax’s defence was altered in two positions. Urby Emanuelson was on left back instead of the suspended Vurnon Anita. Toby Alderweireld, who had relegated his spot to Oleguer in the last match, formed a central defence pair with Jan Vertonghen. Christian Eriksen, who had an unlucky game, was also on the starting squad.
The players’ entrance already set the tone of the evening. The sold-out ArenA, clad in the famous Champions League style and music, assured a fantastic atmosphere from the beginning. But things weren’t as pretty on field during the first half. Ajax was nervous, and Dinamo Kiev created the best opportunities. However, both of the visitors’ backs received yellow cards in the first fifteen minutes. But this wasn’t as a result of pressure from Ajax. Just as in the first match, the Ukrainian team were frequently dangerous, but didn’t manage to score. Oleh Gusev and Andriy Yarmolenko had the ArenA on edge several times during the first half. Maarten Stekelenburg kept Ajax alive with just as many stellar saves.
But Martin Jol’s team gradually found its feet during the first half. First, Luis Suarez’s shot seared wide of 17 year old keeper Maxym Koval’s goal after 25 minutes. A warning shot, as it turned out twenty minutes later. Jan Vertonghen (who scored Ajax’s goal in Kiev) saw his long range free kick get intercepted halfway. The ball was handily picked up by Suarez, who let his attacking instinct do the rest. Focussed on the opening goal, he found the goal, and passed the keeper with a convincing shot from close by: 1-0. This created an enormous relief before the break, and a great perspective to gain the coveted CL ticket.
Ajax’s ticket to the Champions League group phase was assured after the break. With the 1-0 lead in their pocket, Ajax had more confidence, and more opportunities. Suarez’s free kick was rescued at the last minute from the upper corner by the keeper, and Vertonghen got a good chance with his header on a pass from Emanuelson around the one hour mark
The blue threat from Kiev was kept in check for the rest of the match. Despite Dinamo Kiev’s fearsome European record (winning 18 of 19 qualifications since 1997, Ajax didn’t give anything away at the end. Mounir El Hamdaoui put an end to any uncertainty in the last fifteen minutes. On a pass from Siem de Jong, substitute Miralem Sulejmani served El Hamdaoui from the left side. With a controlled shot, he scored his fifth Ajax goal for his brand new employer.
There was one last tense moment in the ArenA. Vertonghen caused a penalty kick, on which Dinamo captain Andriy Shevchenko made good from the edge of the box. Given that a potential second goal against would be fatal for Ajax, there were some nervous moments at the end. But with the crowd’s support, the stressful last minutes passed without an incident. Ajax has earned their just reward for last season’s performance. Jol and Ajax are going to the Champions League.