Ajax has secured their entry into the next round of the Europa League. The next to last pool duel against Timisoara ended with a 1-2 score in favour of Martin Jol’s team, last night in Romania.
Ajax’s Romanian trip ended close to midnight, local time, with a modest celebration. During a challenging week with three away games, this swift placement into the next European round was more than welcome. After their fine win against Vitesse (1-5), Ajax conquered the next threshold successfully three days later. The victory against Timisoara keeps Ajax, with eleven points in five matches, in the lead position of Pool A.
As a result of their entry into the next round, on December 17 when they play against Anderlecht – who lost to Dinamo Zagreb 0-1 – Ajax is in a position to determine which team will be the group winner. Ajax only needs one point to do this.
Ajax’s assignment was simple. They needed only one point in order to get through the winter break. Jol made almost no changes to his starting team, as he had announced on Tuesday. Mitchell Donald was the only switch from last Sunday’s duel against Vitesse, leaving Ismail Aissati on the bench. Donald, with his physical strength, was a welcome presence at midfield.
But all good intentions were shattered within one minute and twenty seconds by the opponents, as the group A’s last placed team surprisingly took the lead. Dorin Gaga beat Ajax goalie Stekelenburg from close by, therefore ending the Romanian team’s scoring dry spell. They hadn’t scored at home in four straight European games. Timisoara’s supporters celebrated accordingly, with a Romanian version of the vuvuzela, which they had brought to the stadium. After this early wake up call – the match started at 10.05pm local time, due to the time difference – Ajax quickly got back in the game. In the eighth minute, captain Suarez brought his team even with a shot from the right side: 1-1. It was his 23rd goal in 24 official matches this season. The Uruguayan has passed Marco van Basten on the list of Ajax’s top scorers. The former Ajax coach’s statistic in the books is twelve goals.
In the second half, Ajax mimicked Timisoara’s quick start from the first half. Marko Pantelic – who was good for a hat trick against Vitesse last Sunday – brought the Amsterdam team into the lead. Emanuelson had left the field by then, due to a lower back injury, and was substituted by Oleguer.
As it got colder in the Dan Paltinisanu Stadium, the match heated up. The Romanians fought valiantly until the end, but within fifteen minutes, they had earned two red cards. First, defender Bonfirm was caught for a charge on Donald, and then Timisoara’s goalie had to leave the game. After a deep pass from Toby Alderweireld, the keeper torpedoed Suarez on his way to the goal. Two corner kicks and two red cards had put the home team down to nine men against Ajax, on match point. But the Ajax captain didn’t make good on his twelve yards out opportunity.
To conclude, Sulejmani and Bruna Silva also made their entry into the game. Sulejmani came in for Anita, and Silva replaced Van der Wiel, who had to leave due to an injured thigh. The 250 Ajax fans who had made the trip no longer feared for their team’s win. After the last whistle blew, the Ajax players got into the spirit of the season, and threw their jerseys into the crowd. If Ajax wins on Sunday in Utrecht, then their week with three away games will have been a total success. “We reached our goal”, said Jol after the match. “It’s unfortunate that Emanuelson got injured. But we reached our first objective of the season, which was to get through the winter break. And that’s good. Besides, this win was important for our UEFA Ranking, since Romania is ranked just behind the Netherlands.”