Ajax let the the group title slip away in the last match of the Europa League group stage. In their home game against Anderlecht, the Amsterdam team suffered a humiliating 1-3 loss, putting Ajax back to second in the group. The draw for the next round will take place on Friday.
Ajax was in a very different position than Anderlecht at the start of their last home game of the season. Ajax was already assured of a winter break, but things were still wide open for the Belgians. With wins for both Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb, coach Ariël Jacobs’ men would be eliminated from the tournament. With a tie, they would end up in second place, and if they won, they would win the group title.
The Belgians were at their fighting best, while Ajax missed a key player in each line. Jol chose to start with Luis Suarez and Demy de Zeeuw, among others, on the bench. “It was risky to let them play, since they both have knee injuries at the moment”, Jol explained his decision. “This season, we’ve played twice without our strongest starting team, against AGOVV and Dordrecht, which were two games where it was possible. Good teams shouldn’t be dependent on two players. But tonight, nobody out there gave everything that they could.”
Anderlecht was hungry, and they got their reward within the first fifteen minutes. In the thirteenth minute, referee Çakir awarded Anderlecht a free kick on the left side, due to a mild infraction from Van der Wiel. Ex-Ajax player Mbark Boussoufa put in the cross, and Romelu Lukaku scored with a simple header. Anderlecht was immediately on the hunt for the next goal, which came six minutes later. Once again, it was the sixteen year-old (!) Lukaku who scored at the far post, on a pass from Legear, 0-2.
Ajax wasn’t able to make anything happen, and the crowd quickly got fed up, jeering at their struggling team. Soon after, Boussouffa almost surprised Stekelenburg with a shot from the right side, which sailed over the keeper and hit the crossbar. The fans chanted for Suarez and De Zeeuw. It was 3-0 before halftime, when Legear’s shot went past Stekelenburg’s grasps, on a rebound from Van der Wiel, no less.
During the break, a Bob Marley lookalike sang Every Little Thing’s gonna be alright, but the fans weren’t impressed. When De Jong and Pantelic stood at the second half’s kick off, the crowd sang “Wij willen Ajax zien” – we want to see Ajax. After the announcement that both teams would start the second half with no changes, the complaints were audible.
It wasn’t until the 77th minute that the crowd had reason to rejoice. Urby Emanuelson curved the ball past Proto: 1-3. The fans shouted approval – after cheering for ‘ten, ten”- even louder when they saw Suarez warming up. Shortly after, the Uruguayan stepped onto the field, and was greeted as a saviour, as though everything was indeed going to be alright now that the forward had joined. Eight minutes before the end, Jol brought in De Zeeuw. But Ajax didn’t come any closer than a booming shot from Rommendahl which hit the bar, during extra time, and Anderlecht left the match with the group title. “We need to teach the players how to go into a match, even though we’ve already qualified. We still need to entertain the crowd”, said Jol.