In a nail-biting game at FC Groningen, Ajax earned the full three points thanks to Klaas Jan Huntelaar: 0-1. An excellent result in the race for the championship.
After qualifying for the Champions League semi-finals at Juventus’ expense last Tuesday, the focus returned to the national competition. With just four games to go and a neck-to-neck race against PSV, the Amsterdam team could not afford to lose a single point. It cost blood, sweat and tears, but Ajax succeeded in its mission.
Coach Erik ten Hag acknowledged the important of this phase of the competition with his line-up. With the strong “Champions League variation”, Ajax faced FC Groningen. The only difference with the game at Juventus was the presence of Nico Tagliafico. The Argentinian had been suspended on Tuesday. His substitute, Noussair Mazraoui, got injured in Turin and was forced to miss this game (as well as Tuesday’s home game against Vitesse).
The early part of the game in the Groene Kathedraal was hectic. Groningen had an early opportunity after a careless play by Frenkie de Jong in his own penalty kick area. In his typical fashion, the midfielder played his way out of a painful situation.
Difficulties against Groningen
Ajax generally struggled with the very physical game of the home team, who attempted to disrupt the visitors with several fouls. They were successful, as the biggest opportunities came from corners. Especially Matthijs de Ligt came close to scoring the opening goal several times, but his headers lacked precision. Right back Joel Veltman came into a good position. The goalie Sergio Padt had come out, and won that showdown.
Big chance for Doan
FC Groningen had the best opportunities of the second half. Sierhuis, loaned out by Ajax, made a good pass to Ritsu Doan. His shot bounced wide of Andre Onana’s goal, to everyone’s relief.
Ajax needed more spunk and Ten Hag brought in Klaas Jan Huntelaar for Lasse Schone in the last half hour. In the 66th minute, Tagliafico seemed poised to score the opener, Deyovaisio Zeefuik foiled Ajax at the goal line.
Lead role for Huntelaar
And it was also Huntelaar who liberated Ajax! In the 79th minute, he pivoted away from a tough duel against Tim Handwerker and pulled the trigger: 0-1. Four minutes later, he had to leave. He hit Memisevic hard and received a yellow card, and, because he had celebrated his goal by removing his jersey earlier, he was forced to leave.
Onana stood out as well. With four minutes left, the Cameroon native rescued a header by Sierhuis from his goal. In the nail-biting final minutes, Ajax clung to its narrow marging. Three games left…