Ajax has played to a 1-1 tie on Wednesday evening against OGC Nice. In the first match of the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, the important away goal was scored by none other than Donny van de Beek, Abdelhak Nouri’s closest friend in the selection. Next week, the return game in Amsterdam awaits.
In the first game of the season, the stakes were very high for Ajax. In Nice, the Ajacieds’ job was to carve out a good position for themselves in order to qualify for the UEFA Champions League playoffs. Next week in the ArenA, that will be the task at hand.
OGC Nice wanted to show support for Ajax after the difficult situation with Abdelhak Nouri, and played in #StayStrongAppie jerseys during the warm-up. When the announcer pointed this out to the fans, they applauded from the stands. After that, however difficult, Ajax’s full focus needed to shift to the game at hand.
Coach Marcel Keizer, making his debut, started with the expected squad. Andre Onana, who had barely played at all during the preparations, was the starting keeper. With Veltman, Sánchez, De Ligt and Viergever, the defense was as expected, and at midfield, Donny van de Beek was in for transferred captain Davy Klaassen, and Justin Kluivert replaced Bertrand Traoré, who has also left. Otherwise, all of the regulars were in attendance: Hakim Ziyech, Lasse Schöne, Kasper Dolberg and Amin Younes. This was a nice milestone for the Danish midfielder, as he was playing in his 200th match.
After a fantastic season in the UEFA Europa League, one that ended in a loss during the final game in Stockholm, Ajax is aiming to reach the highest European stage this season. With Nice as an opponent, Ajax had drawn the most difficult opponent, according to popular opinion.
The match unfolded as Keizer had predicted in the press conference. Ajax made the plays and Nice waited for a mistake, to then counter with Mario Balotelli or Bassem Srafri in prime position. The nicest plays of the first fifteen minutes took place in an attack. Kluivert pivoted away amazingly on the side, and Ziyech impressively outplayed his immediate opponent. Unfortunately the attack fell through, after which Nice transitioned quickly.
Ajax went down in the 32nd minute. Nick Viergever was simply outplayed by Jean Michaël Seri. His pass was easily shot into the goal by Mario Balotelli: 1-0. After that, Ajax was almost invisible for the rest of the first half. Nice was much more dangerous and, mainly via their right flank, broke through regularly. Fortunately, the damage remained limited to one goal against in the first half.
None other than Donny
In the second half, Ajax made up their deficit surprisingly fast. It was none other than Donny van de Beek, who had grown up with Abdelhak Nouri in the academy from a young age, scored the all-important goal from the left side: 1-1. Keeper Cardinale, who seemed unsure of himself during the whole game, boxed away the ball, which landed at the feet of the brand-new number six. He didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
After that, Nice needed a long time to recover from the blow. Ajax had a lot of possession, but this didn’t lead to any opportunities at first. Justin Kluivert was taken out in favour of David Neres, and Matthijs de Ligt and Lasse Schöne both received yellow cards – a sign that Nice was increasing the pressure. But the Amsterdam team’s fighting spirit was imposing, and, as they had shown in training earlier in the week, they were prepared to do whatever it takes. In the 71st minute, Ajax came oh-so-close to bringing the game to 1-2. Van de Beek looped the ball to the front and Davinson Sánchez sent a header onto the crossbar, via Cardinale’s fingertips.
A Nice supporter ran onto the field in the eightieth minute, while Ajax was on attack. The man was overpowered and he match continued with a referee ball. In the final minutes, Nice seemed exhausted and Ajax, via Frenkie de Jong who had replaced Lasse Schöne, had a great chance to score the winning goal. Cardinale made the save.
Surge of energy
In the extra time, the home team suddenly had a surge of energy for a final attack, and came close to bringing the game to 2-1. However, they came up short in their finishing each time. The game remained 1-1, and Ajax can head to the return in a promising position.
Would you like to attend the return game in de Amterdam ArenA on Wednesday, August 2? Click on the link below.