National champion Ajax closed their Germany training camp with a loss to 1.FC Nürnberg on Saturday afternoon. Ajax was defeated 2-0 in the easy Credit Stadium. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson made his much awaited Ajax debut in the second half. Siem de Jong was forced to retire from the match early due to hamstring problems.
Ajax met its most difficult opponent yet on a sun drenched Saturday afternoon in Germany. Nürnberg finished sixth in the Bundesliga last season, and was clearly a cut above Ajax’s previous opponents Buitenpost, AZSV, FC Emmen and SSV Jahn Regensburg (third Germany division). With two goals after the break, the Germans served Ajax its first defeat so far in the practice season.
Maarten Stekelenburg started on the squad in Nuremberg. Ajax’s first keeper had been granted rest for the SSV Jahn Regensburg match (0-0) three days earlier. Stekelenburg’s memories of the easy Credit Stadium were not good ones. Five years ago, he was eliminated with the Dutch national team in the round of sixteen by Portugal during World Cup 2006. Besides Stekelenburg, who was the Dutch team’s third keeper at the time, André Ooijer had also been on that World Cup team. Ajax’s central defender had had a warm meeting with Tommy Simons from the home team before the match. Their common PSV background made for a cheerful moment along the side line.
The match against the club from southern Germany came at the end of their Open Day. Before kick-off, each player from the home team was introduced individually to the 15.531 supporters. Just as the 300 Ajax supporters who had made the trip, the home crowd witnessed Kolbeinn Sigthórsson’s much awaited debut with Ajax. The Icelander substituted Aras Özbiliz in the 65th minute. Ajax had just gone down 1-0 thanks to a beautiful shot into the upper corner – after a corner – from Robert Mak.
Siem de Jong’s early exit in the first half was a disappointment. The attacking midfielder was substituted as a cautionary measure after fifteen minutes due to a sore hamstring. Thulani Serero replaced him on ‘10’. FC Nürnberg was the more dangerous team in the first half. The Germans made it in front of Stekelenburg’s goal several times; the Ajax’s keeper didn’t let his guard down. On the opposite end of the field, Miralem Sulejmani had an opportunity during the early minutes, but the home team’s keeper was well prepared.
Ajax got an early warning in the second half when Markus Feulner sent the ball onto the post from close by. Ajax reacted soon after with a shot from Theo Janssen, but the midfielder’s attempt sailed over the Nürnberg goal. Midway through the second half, Ajax and Nürnberg shuffled their line-up and replaced about half of their team. The home team substituted five players at once, while Frank de Boer allotted playing time to the returning internationals (Eriksen, Boilesen, Van der Wiel and Sigthórsson, who made his debut).
Fifteen minutes before the end, the practice nature of the match became apparent when the Germans and Ajax made several substitutions – four and three respectively. The fresh faces on the field had an impact on the score eight minutes before time. Substitute Markus Mendler doubled his team’s lead with a good attack from the right flank. With the ball at his feet, he stormed in, sending the ball in with his left foot, via Stekelenburg. Ajax’s first defeat during the practice season had become definitive.
Ajax plays two practice matches this week. First, they’ll be in the Danish capital on Wednesday for a game against Brondby IF. Four days later, Ajax hosts the Argentinian Independiente in the Amsterdam ArenA. The second match will be of special interest for Ajax fans, as it’s likely that Sigthórsson will make his home debut in the ArenA.