Ajax moral winners after football war

Football is war, Rinus Michels once said, and PSV and Ajax did everything to confirm that notion on Sunday. Not much football in the first 45 minutes, but plenty of war. In the second half Ajax twice overcame a deficit: 2-2. With this result, Ronald Koeman's team stay in first place in the Holland Casino Eredivisie.

All is fair in war. That is why the traditional did not start on Sunday afternoon, but much earlier in the week. PSv striker Mateja Kezman was suspended for three matches, much to the chagrin of everybody in Eindhoven. PSV's coach Guus Hiddink accused Rafael van der Vaart and thus lit the flame. ,,Things were said on both sides", Koeman said. ,,But on the pitch, everything should be forgotten."

The flame became a full-burning fire when referee Eric Braamhaar failed to control matters in the first half. Koeman: ,,The ref should immediately have given a yellow card when Johann Vogel kicked Wesley Sneijder's ankle. But it was not just the referee. There was a lot of irritation and no respect for each other. Neither with us nor with PSV."

In the seventh minute of the match that started in a high pace, goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont was floored by Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink te verduren. Doctor Edwin Goedhart needed three staples to attach the Romanian's eye brow back onto his face. The tone had been set.

Where Lobont could be mended, PSV lost two players after 35 minutes. André Ooijer's reckless move resulted in an injury and he had to go to the hospital with a possible fracture of the collar bone. Kevin Hofland suffered a concussion from a duel with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

With all the interruptions and the mutual animosity on the pitch, any chance of good football went out the door. PSV had had one good scoring chance through Dennis Rommedahl and a sharp Ajax attack was finished by Ibrahimovic with a thunderous strike against the crossbar.

The Swede was the most dangerous player for Ajax, where Johnny Heitinga and Zdenek Grygera were in the starting line-up and Julien Escudé returned from a short injury lay-off. Koeman wanted his team to play from a closed and compact organisation.

But because of the messy character of the match, the many fouls, the irritations and the injuries, all game plans were useless. Just before halftime Van der Vaart went down hard after being hit by Mark van Bommel, when the ball was somewhere else. The Ajax bench expected the PSV captain to be sent off, but Braamhaar waived it off. ,,This was an elbow and there is no excuse for it", Van der Vaart thought. ,,I only tried to stop him. I never threw an elbow", Van Bommel claimed.

When moments later John de Jong was stopped by Pasanen and Escudé, Van der Vaart also joined in. According to the referee he kicked the PSV player and the captain was sent off. ,,I blame Rafael for making a kicking motion. That one, the ref got right", Koeman concluded.

That all meant that Ajax were reduced to ten for the second half. ,,I told the guys that we mainly would have to defend in the second half", said Koeman. ,,We had to make sure we would not be provoked and do everything for the result.''

However, within a minute Lobont was beaten by Van Bommel after the goalkeeper released the ball, apparently bothered by Vennegoor of Hesselink. Van Bommel scored easily, 1-0.

But the Amsterdam team fought back and was helped scoring the equaliser by poor defending by PSV. After Ibrahimovic had shot hard on goalkeeper Waterreus' fists, Sonck was quick to react and put in his fifth league goal: 1-1.

The question was whether Ajax would resist the pressure, as the young squad had had much to deal with. The answer came when PSV regained the lead in the 69th minute. Petri Pasanen could not get the ball away and De Jong's effort was right on target: 2-1.

But who thought Ajax were finished, was wrong. Despite the pressure, the side was occasionally dangerous with counter attacks. In the 72nd minute the reward came. Bouma and Waterreus miscommunicated and the clever Ibrahimovic gratefully accepted the gift, 2-2. ,,All four goals had more to do with poor defending than good attacking", Koeman observed.

PSV did get some chances but Ajax never gave up. Koeman brought on Nigel de Jong for Wesley Sneijder and Jari Litmanen for Ibrahimovic in the last ten minutes. It were Litmanen's first official minutes of the season. In stoppage time Victor Sikora came on, but his playing time was very limited as Braamhaar quickly whistled for the end. The winger probably did not care at that moment, as the Ajax players were more than happy with the point they won in Eindhoven. Last season Ajax missed the title because of two league losses to PSV.