Ajax was eliminated from the Europa League by Steaua Bucharest on Thursday evening. Because the home team had won the game 2-0, just like Ajax had last week, the game went into overtime. The score remained the same. In the ensuing penalty kicks, the Amsterdam team started off by taking the lead on Steaua in this Romanian chaos. But Lasse Schöne and Niklas Moisander both missed their shots.
In comparison to the home game victory against Steaua Bucharest (2-0), Frank de Boer made one change to his squad. Instead of Lasse Schöne, the trainer went for extra defensive security by putting Christian Poulsen at midfield. On offense, like last week, were Viktor Fischer, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Isaac Cuenca, who had all been spared last Sunday. Steaua Bucharest had three changes to its line-up. Coach Reghecampf was forced to leave two players off his squad: Pintilii and Bourceanu. They had received fatal cards in Amsterdam, resulting in their suspension. Moreover, the coach selected Leandro Tatu over Nikolic for this home game. Steaua did have Tanase at its disposal again, after he had sat out a suspension last week.
The home team was enthusiastically supported by the fanatical crowd. From kick-off, the fans were on top of the game and when Ajax had possession, a true concert of whistles and jeers rained down on the Amsterdam team. The young Ajax players had a difficult time with this at first, but at around the ten minute mark, they got Steaua under control, which silenced the crowd somewhat. In the eleventh minute, the much desired goal away goal was almost scored when both Viktor Fischer and Christian Eriksen had opportunities to beat keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu in the same attack. But the ball simply wouldn’t go in.
Up until the half hour mark, Ajax had had very few problems with the home team, but things got hairy when Kenneth Vermeer grabbed a played back ball from Christian Poulsen. Steaua was awarded a free kick from six or seven meters out. With all eleven Ajax players at or near the goal line, Rusescu’s hard shot was stopped. But it was a different situation five minutes later, when left back Jasmin Latovlevici had the freedom and space to carry out an imposing rush. He took full advantage of it by shooting the ball over Vermeer, who then collided hard with Ricardo van Rhijn. The damage was limited to going 1-0 down, and both Ajax players were able to continue playing. The score remained 1-0 until halftime.
Ajax struggled in the second half. They were barely able to keep possession and pressure from the home team continued to increase. It was just a matter of time before the 2-0 goal was scored, which broke the battle wide open. Tanasa shot just wide from far out, and Popa saw his attempt, unstoppable for Vermeer, hit the post.
Ajax’s only answer was an opportunistic shot from Fischer. In the seventieth minute, De Boer made a double substitution. Cuenca and Sigthórsson made way for Lasse Schöne and Derk Boerrigter, and De Jong moved into the centre forward position. Just when Ajax seemed to be regaining control, Vlad Chiriches sent a shot into the upper corner, 2-0. After two matches, the teams were dead even.
With elimination close at hand, Ajax had a chance to score the liberating – and 550th European – goal. From a corner, Boerrigter’s header hit the post. And Ajax came close two more times to the ‘winning’2-1 on corners, but the score remained 2-0 in official playing time, making it necessary to go into overtime. Thulani Serero had the best opportunities during overtime. The small South African could have sent Ajax into the next round, but he didn’t manage. This monumental football battle would thus be decided by penalty kicks.
Ajax scored too few goals at this critical time as well. Missed shots by Schöne and Moisander sent Steaua through to the next European round and the Amsterdam team will now focus on the two national prizes.
“They were a bit more fortunate and we weren’t alert enough at times”, said Frank de Boer. “The goals were scored by two moments of inattention; a played back ball, and a long ball. We lost the ball needlessly and players made the wrong decisions. Tonight, it was our own fault, not Steaua’s. That’s a shame.”