Ajax partly redeemed itself for Thursday’s cup match loss during the away match against AZ. In a very windy Alkmaar, Ajax won a point on Sunday: 1-1. Fifteen minutes before time, Simon Poulsen placed an attempt by Nicolás Lodeiro into his own goal. Rasmus Elm put AZ in the lead in the first half. The point difference between the teams remains at five points due to the tie.
As coach Gertjan Verbeek kept his line up for this competition match identical to what it was for last Thursday’s cup match, Frank de Boer made three changes to his. Just like before the winter break, Jasper Cillessen played the cup tournament, and Kenneth Vermeer was back between the posts for this competition match. In addition to Vermeer, both Lorenzo Ebecilio (instead of Ismail Aissati) and Daley Blind (instead of Ruben Ligeon) played their first serious match of 2012 in Alkmaar.
Ajax, still without the injured players Nicolai Boilesen, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, Derk Boerrigter and Gregory van der Wiel, came out of the starting blocks well. Except for AZ’s first opportunity, which was a beautiful one from Roy Beerens in the second minute, Ajax took the initiative and, in the starting phase, put forward a header from Alderweireld and a disqualified goal by Miralem Sulejmani. At the moment that the Serb put the ball behind the AZ keeper in the eighth minute, he was offside.
After a good twenty minutes, Ajax lost its grip on the game and AZ took over seamlessly. That led to a good opportunity for Benschop, who had a great chance when Vermeer came too far out and left him free, but he couldn’t get the ball under control. Simon Poulsen made a threatening appearance in front of Ajax’s goal, but his shot into the near corner was caught by Vermeer, just as was Rasmus Elm’s corner, which was fished out of the goal by the Ajax player.
After that, things became harder for Ajax, with yellow cards for Siem de Jong and Jan Vertonghen, and going down in the 37th minute. Vertonghen, who just six minutes earlier had caught a Benschop attempt at the line, wrongfully bumped Maher, and specialist Elm subsequently made good on a free kick: 1-0. The best opportunity for Ajax came in the extra time minute, when Sulejmani took a hard shot on goal, but found Viergever in his path. “We saw a different Ajax than last Thursday”, concluded De Boer afterwards. “We showed a lot more guts, especially in the first 25 minutes.”
AZ did everything they could to lock up the match in the second half, but Ajax’s defenders stayed sharp. Slowly, the reigning national champion came out of its shell and, via Siem de Jong and Ebecilio, they got decent chances. After about an hour of play, Ajax suffered a blow when Toby Alderweireld left the field with a hamstring injury. Ajax will have to do without the Belgian for another few weeks.
Fifteen minutes before the end, De Boer took action. Nicolas Lodeiro, who had been reliable during Siem de Jong’s injury, came in as a substitute and witnessed the tying goal when Simon Poulsen sent his attempt into his own goal. “The 1-1 was deserved”, said De Boer. “We tried to make the plays, and were, at times, successful.”