Ajax have lost the match that was crucial for the league title, in Eindhoven to PSV: 2-0. Coach Ronald Koeman declared afterwards that his team had not played badly, but that Ajax had been powerless up front. The defeat means that Ajax now have to fear Feyenoord, who are rapidly gaining ground.
Ajax needed a win. Nothing more, nothing less. On Saturday, Feyenoord had demolished a woeful Heerenveen with 5-0 and a loss by Ajax would bring the side from Rotterdam within a point in the league table.
Things started badly for Ajax in Eindhoven. Trabelsi tried to head the ball out of his box, but did that so softly that he had to correct his own mistake. In his attempt he brought down Arjen Robben. Trabelsi was shown a yellow card and PSV were awarded a penalty. Mateja Kezman, Holland's leading goalscorer, put it away impeccably: 1-0. Only ten minutes had been played.
It did not get any better. The opening minutes aside, the match was too slow-paced. Ajax had to try something after the early deficit. And although the guests created an advantage in midfield, the side was powerless up front.
Koeman had several explanations for his team's difficulties. ,,The guys are really tired, Zlatan could not hold on to the ball as well as he normally can, Van der Vaart is still getting back into full shape and Pienaar did not reach his normal level. Several players had physical problems, but I could not change much up front. I thought that young guys could play at full power every day, but they can't. The last few weeks have taken up much energy."
One good Ajax attack could be seen in the first half. John OBrien, with Pasanen the best Ajax player, crossed to Van der Meyde who headed it back to Zlatan. He headed on goal, but the attempt went over the crossbar.
Ajax were better in posession. After the early lead PSV drew back and leaned on its - outstanding - defence.
Late in the second half Koeman brought on Boukhari for Pienaar to strengthen the attack, but the winger could not make a difference. Koeman even put in Jelle van Damme as an extra striker four minutes from the end. The Belgian defender saw to his horror that Kezman decided the match at the other end when he made it 2-0.
By then, Ajax were playing without Cristian Chivu. Ajax's captain threw a ball at Van Bommel and was booked by referee Wegereef. It meant his second yellow card and therefore a red one. ,,An exaggerated decision", PSV coach Hiddink said.
Koeman agreed. ,,The referee did not show any personality. The first yellow for Van Bommel in the first minute was a joke too. Wegereef wasn't into it today. And he's one of the best in Holland. Can you imagine what the rest are like?"
Koeman was disappointed with his team's loss. ,,But even after that penalty I thought we did not play badly, but we had no strength in attack. We weren't fresh enough to trouble PSV. I think we can forget about the title now. We have to make sure that we stay in second place and that will be difficult enough. Playing in the Champions League is great, but if we do that only once every few years, we're getting nowhere. We hope to continue next season."