On Wednesday evening, in the Amsterdam ArenA’s press room, Frank de Boer and his captain Siem de Jong looked forward to the Europa League meeting against FC Salzburg. “I’m impressed with Salzburg”, said De Boer respectfully of the opponent. “Especially because of their team spirit and the way they play.”
Ajax is ready for its first meeting with the leader of the Austrian Bundesliga. On Wednesday, Ajax had their last practice session at the Toekomst sports complex. Roughly an hour after wrapping up, De Boer and De Jong arrived for the pre-game interviews.
De Boer will not have Nicolai Boilesen and Thulani Serero at his disposal on Thursday. The Dane was absent from Wednesday’s practice. The South African midfielder left midway through the training session. “Serero won’t make it tomorrow”, De Boer looked ahead to the almost sold-out game in the ArenA. With a smile: “I already know how we’re going to solve it, but I can’t talk about it now.” The Ajax coach did say that Lucas Andersen would replace Serero in the match selection. Jairo Riedewald and Ricardo Kishna will also be part of Ajax’s selected squad for the team’s first European game of 2014.
Salzburg was a virtually unknown entity to Ajax right after the draw. In the new year, the staff and players are impressively up-to-date on Salzburg and their relative position in the Austrian competition. “You do some research, of course, and then you realize that it’s quite a tough draw”, continues De Boer, who followed with a short summary in which he outlined the opponent’s strengths. “Salzburg is solidly in first place. They’re not a team you just walk over.”
The Salzburg team is enjoying a big lead on the second placed team. And this big - 17 point- lead on SV Grödig means that the team is almost assured of the national championship. At the end of this, FC Salzburg will most likely add an eighth championship to its list.
De Boer: “In a practice match, Bayern München was outclassed. Bayern isn’t just any team. This says a lot about the mentality and quality of this team and club. I’m impressed with Salzburg. Especially with the way they play. They have a good team spirit and put a lot of pressure on their opponents; the team is working well. Moreover, Salzburg has a dangerous quartet of forwards. The Austrians have a good mentality to defeat an opponent. If you’re not alert, as was the case with Bayern München, you’re in trouble. We’ve been duly warned and are certainly not going to underestimate them.”
De Boer continued: “Johan Cruijff gave a nice example recently. You need to try to at least reach the semi-finals via this type of match. That brings a specific type of pressure. Or it puts pressure onto the players. We’re coming out of the Champions League and perhaps, because of that, we’re seen as the favourites. But if we beat this team, it means we’ve performed very well.”
In the same vein as his coach, Siem de Jong also was cautious about the strength and power of Ajax’s upcoming opponent. Just before Wednesday’s training, staff, scouts and players came together for a match talk. “Salzburg is a tough opponent”, said the captain to the roomful of reporters. “We won’t underestimate them. The Europa League is a great competition. We know what we need to do and we know what Salzburg can do. I see this as a great European match, in a sold-out Amsterdam ArenA.”
The Europa League is a nice podium for De Jong to show himself. The Ajax player has been plagued with injuries in the first half of the season. De Jong: “It’s been a bit of an unlucky season for me so far. That’s a shame, of course, especially because of those unique injuries. I felt good after the winter break. Just before PSV, I got a bit of a hit again. That hurts. It’s now time to be careful, but especially to play many great matches.”
If Ajax reaches the round of sixteen of the UEFA Europa League via FC Salzburg, the playing dates will be determined later. Due to the nuclear energy conference (NSS) in The Hague, game dates (and the order of home and away games) are still subject to change with respect to possible continuation in Europa League. Ajax advises fans to keep updated via the various club channels.