On the road to the deciding European duel against APOEL Nicosia – the stakes being to play in European football after the winter break – Ajax filled its tank with valuable confidence against Willem II: 5-0. Substitute Arek Milik scored twice. The victory was overshadowed by Kolbeinn Sigthórsson’s injury. The Icelander opened the score, but had to leave shortly afterwards due to an injury. Ajax, however, left the field smiling broadly at the end.
Sigthórsson was the most surprising name in Frank de Boer’s starting line-up. The Icelander kept his competition for centre forward, Arek Milik, on the bench. Sigthórsson repaid this confidence quickly. The Ajax players took advantage of prep work by Lasse Schöne (played in) and Lucas Andersen (passed forward) after fourteen minutes. Sigthórsson then trumped his guard Jordens Peters and scored coolly: 1-0. Four minutes later, the scoring centre forward left the field on the stretcher. The Icelander was victim to the recklessly sliding Ali Messaoud. This proved to be the end of the road for the starting Ajax centre forward. Milik was his substitute.
The Pole needed very little time to match his predecessor’s feat. Milik also scored quickly. Just as with the opening goal, Andersen sent the ball to his centre forward. The shot by the Polish substitute was too powerful for Kostas Lamprou: 2-0.
But the most beautiful goal on Saturday evening didn’t belong to the dyed in the wool centre-forward, who is normally the specialist in rounding off. It was defender Joël Veltman who struck beautifully. Only four minutes after Milik’s goal, a one-two between Schöne and Veltman was the foundation of Ajax’s third goal of the evening. Face to face with Lamprou, the central defender rounded off with great control and a sublime chip. The sensational goal drew applause from assistant-coach Dennis Bergkamp – one the ‘king of the chip’ during his time as a player.
After just 31 minutes, Ajax was enjoying a big 3-0 lead. Two minutes before the break, Milik scored another hard goal. After some football acrobatics from Ricardo Kishna on the right, the ball landed, via Andersen, with Milik. Andersen thus had his third assist. Three assists in one half: the last Ajax player to achieve this feat was Andy van der Meyde in 2002. The lead at halftime was bigger (4-0) than anyone had expected. One week after an unnecessary 1-1 tie at ADO Den Haag, the Amsterdam team seldom ran into problems with the tri-color team.
The Tilburg team didn’t really get into the match at any point on Saturday. That was also due to the fact that Ben Sahar’s shot – the very first opportunity in the match – disappeared next to the goal via the post. Willem II therefore missed the good fortune of having a flying start in the ArenA. The tricolored team (playing in blue in the ArenA) didn’t get another chance to make good on their reputation as a brisk and carefully playing team in the ArenA. Willem II has been surprising friend and foe alike in the past few months with thoughtful and relatively efficient football.
Willem II sunk to eighth place in the Eredivisie after fourteen rounds of play. This isn’t bad for a club who, playing a Jupiler League game last season, tied 1-1 against the Ajax Reserves. The scoring Ajax Reserves player from that game, Lucas Andersen, was one of Ajax’s most valuable and remarkable players of Ajax 1. The Dane was also substituted after playing three quarters of a match. Ajax will be able to use a fit and confident Andersen against APOEL. Substitute Riechedly Bazoer replaced the Dane and made his debut in the Eredivisie. Earlier this season, the midfielder made his official debut in the KNVB Cup match against SV Urk.
Eight minutes before Bazoer’s entry, Ajax had already increased its lead to 5-0. Davy Klaassen slid a goal attempt by Milik past Lamprou. The blond midfielder thus also earned a spot among the goal scorers on the stadium screens.
Substitutes Bazoer and Queensy Menig (also making his competition debut in the final minutes, coming in for Kishna) ‘owed’ their spots on the match selection to Anwar El Ghazi’s injury (groin), as well as Niki Zimling’s (thigh). Of the two, it seems that El Ghazi will be fit in time for the UEFA Champions League match against APOEL. Who knows, perhaps Saturday’s win will pay out dividends in self- confidence on Wednesday.