Ajax has once again failed to win the first official match of the season. Just like one year ago, Ajax’s effort to win the Johan Cruijff Plate was thwarted by FC Twente. In the Amsterdam ArenA, the national champion played almost an entire half one man up. But cup holder Twente still managed to win, 2-1. “We did dominate for ninety minutes” , determined Ajax coach Frank de Boer, looking back with mixed feelings on the lost contest to win the 2011-2012 season’s first prize. He was satisfied with Ajax’s performance, but not with the result. An apt summary of Ajax’s night against Twente. De Boer: “It’s brutal to give away two opportunites and get scored against twice. Completely unnecessary in my opinion.”
It’s a new football season, with new Ajax names and faces. After a long lead up to the season, with numerous practice matches, Theo Jannsen wore the captain’s arm band in his debut against his former club. On historic May 15, 2011, when Ajax and Twente battled for the championship in the bursting ArenA, the midfielder still played for Twente. Kenneth Vermeer, as had been announced by Frank de Boer, was Maarten Stekelenburg’s replacement. ‘Steek’ was in Rome during this sixteenth Johan Cruijff Plate contest, the city where he will most likely be employed next, at AS Roma. Vermeer had also been Ajax’s keeper on May 15th.
Partly due to the newly minted championship gold star on Ajax’s new jersey, the first official match of 2011-2012 was reminiscent of the unforgettable championship match which brought the club its thirtieth title. The memories of that wonderful day in the club’s history are still sweet.
Co Adriaanse was the familiar former Ajax face with the “Tukkers” . The trainer made his debut in the Amsterdam ArenA as FC Twente’s coach. The former Ajax man was missing his critical offensive man, Nacer Chadli. Bryan Ruiz began on the Twente bench, coming in after the break. In addition to Janssen, Kolbeinn Sightórsson made his official debut with Ajax on Saturday. Jan Vertonghen remained absent due to a light injury. Daley Blind did the honours in the heart of Ajax’s defense.
Despite dominating on the field, and a Christian Eriksen header onto the crossbar, the team from Twente took the lead midway through the second half after Janssen fouled Luuk de Jong. Referee Pol van Boekel was decisive: penalty. Marc Janko shot FC Twente into the 1-0 lead.
The national champion kept dominating even after giving up the first goal. The team from Amsterdam definitely played better football, while Adriaanse’s men barely managed to reach Vermeer. A battalion of opportunities didn’t result in a tying goal during the first 45 minutes in the ArenA, which, although well filled, was somewhat less lively that it had been on May 15.
The tying goal came ten minutes after the break. Toby Alderweireld had time and the room to come up. The Belgian central defender rounded off his attempt with a shot which landed behind Mihaylov, via the crossbar: 1-1. FC Twente was down to ten men at that point. Left winger Steven Berghuis, with two yellow cards to his name, had already retreated to the dressing room. The talented attacker received the fatal yellow card several minutes after the break for a ‘schwalbe’.
With a man advantage coupled with dominant play, Ajax seemed poised to take home the first prize of the season. Miralem Sulejmani tested his luck with long distance shots which tested Mihaylov. Attacking midfileder Siem de Jong also put the Twente goal under fire. Small problem: the keeper blocked every shot. De Boer tried to force a lead with two substitutions. André Ooijer (for Nicolai Boilesen; Blind continued as left back) came in to help the Amsterdammers to achieve more defensive stability. Derk Boerrigter relieved Sigthórsson. With the left winger on the field, Miralem Sulejmani shifted to centre forward and Lorenzo Ebecilio moved to the right. “I really wanted to see Boerrigter tonight” , said De Boer about one of his substitutions. “I wanted to give Derk a chance at the highest level.”
But Ajax needed to deal with another setback. Substute Ruiz took advantage of the room he got and curled the ball artfully over Vermeer into the far corner: 2-1. It was interesting to see if, and how, the ‘refreshed’ Ajax could come up with an answer.
With the minutes ticking away, Ajax seemed less and less convinced that the evening would end successfully. The ten ‘Tukkers’ became increasingly aggressive. Because the team from Twente kept their box water tight, Ajax had very little room to manoeuver. Once again, it wasn’t in the cards for Ajax to win the Johan Cruijff Plate. Just as it had in its fifteenth edition, the Plate fell to the team from Twente. “Twente deserve this lift” , said De Boer sportively. “Especially after what happened in their stadium, and the results of that.”
“Of course we would have loved to win the Johan Cruijff Plate. But it you lose this match, then the point is how you played. We didn’t dominate like that all year. This is a big positive for us and we’ll take that into our next matches. We’re disappointed, but we’re moving ahead with our chin up.” De Boer was complimented by Adriaanse, who celebrated his return to the Netherlands with an immediate prize. “The best team doesn’t always win, that was clear tonight.”