Ajax has started its new UEFA Champions League season with a tie against Paris Saint-Germain. The Dutch champion kept the French title holder to a 1-1 game. Edinson Cavani scored in the first half, and Lasse Schöne scored the tying goal fifteen minutes before time.
On this balmy evening, Ajax grabbed its first point in the new CL season, thus robbing PSG of the chance to return to France with full points. Ajax once again showed that it can definitely give top European teams a hard time in Amsterdam.
Ajax’s offense was changed in two positions compared to the match against Heracles. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Lucas Andersen replaced Arek Milik and Anwar El Ghazi in the squad. Davy Klaassen had also recovered sufficiently from his cramps to appear at kick-off. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Maxwell and Gregory van der Wiel were the former Ajax players now counted among the star selection from Paris, roughly a quarter of their selection. The trio was treated to warm applause beforehand.
The big question was all about how to defend against Ibrahimovic? Duels with the iron-like Swede would need to be avoided, as Joël Veltman and Niklas Moisander had previously stated. Also, Ajax’s central duo would need to be on top of him like a second skin when he got the ball, and especially would need to anticipate his moves. That was an extensive action list needed to curtail PSG somewhat. And that was successful, if only because he didn’t manage to score.
The duel with PSG kicked off a new season for Ajax in the Champions League, in a very difficult pool once again. And, once again, Ajax proved to be a strong contender at home against CL opponents. Victories against FC Barcelona and Manchester City in similar circumstances point to the fact that, in a full ArenA, special powers are released for Ajax. For this reason, Frank de Boer chose the same battle plan as in the home win against Barcelona, by applying pressure early on to PSG. “They’re not used to that in France. We’re not a counter team, we go from our own strengths, with respect for the opponent”, was said beforehand.
The match began badly for Ajax, when PSG took the lead after only fifteen minutes. Nicolai Boilesen was turned away by Lucas in his own penalty kick area, after which Ibrahimovic was able to take a shot on goal. Initially Veltman jumped in to help and got the ball out, but Edinson Cavani ticked the ball into the goal on the rebound: 0-1. After that, the French team continued to play a solid first half, during which Ajax was powerless. It was a long time before Ajax could shake it off.
Right after the break, Ajax continued to struggle. Captain Moisander made an error, which enabled Lucas to have a free passage to the goal. To the relief and joy of the crowd in the sold-out Amsterdam ArenA, the Brazilian’s shot grazed the wrong side of the post. In retrospect, that was a crucial moment in the game. A few minutes later, substitute Niki Zimling (a tactical substitution at the expense of Nick Viergever) fired a shot over the visitors’ goal. PSG had a few good opportunities in the second half, when Marquinhos’ header nearly scored the 0-2 goal. Ibrahimovic’s free kick, which went straight through the wall and saved by Cillessen, occurred as well.
The fact that no second goal was scored for the French team gave Ajax hope to win at least one point. And that’s what happened. Ajax shook off any doubt and became threatening around the penalty kick area. Fifteen minutes before time, this resulted in a free kick, and Ajax was able to deploy a special weapon. With a stunning free kick, Lasse Schöne tied the game fifteen minutes before the end. A tornado of cheering ensued. Thoughts briefly went back to that game against Barcelona that De Boer had spoken of earlier. That feeling was even more pronounced with Schöne almost brought the ArenA to its feet three minutes later. Will full conviction, he sent a hard free kick against the post. Suddenly, the roles had reversed: from nothing to almost taking the lead.
The final minutes were very exciting: Ajax had substitute Arek Milik on attack (with substitute El Ghazi at his side), and PSG had fresh reinforcements Lavezzi and Pastore on the field. It was a true battle for a while, with Ajax going for the gold at one point. But the score remained as it was, and Ajax and PSG both retained one point from the first group match. Ajax was soundly applauded from the stands.