Ajax’s Sunday afternoon at Het Kasteel was successful all around. They soundly beat Sparta, reduced their deficit against league leader PSV, and most importantly, suffered no damage leading up to their looming showdown against PSV.
At the 12.30 kickoff, Ajax knew what they needed to do. Nothing less than a win would be acceptable in this duel. The previous evening, league leader PSV had had a rare off night during their away match against NAC Breda. Ex Ajax man Robbert Schilder served up a 2-1 defeat to the Eindhoven natives. A win against Sparta – a team which has provided tense moments for Ajax during the last seasons - would bring their deficit down to four points. Last season, their visit to Rotterdam West ended with a 4-0 loss. On the eve of Ajax- PSV (next week), they needed to take care of business on Rotterdam soil. And that’s just what the team from Amsterdam did…
“Sparta is especially strong at home”, said Martin Jol at the press conference. “Beforehand, we had our concerns about the field, but it was fine. We just didn’t lose control today, which is good in an away game against Sparta.”
An early goal by Siem de Jong put Martin Jol’s team on the right track. After fifteen minutes, the midfielder saw a gap, and De Jong pulled the trigger convincingly: 0-1. The game wavered back and forth for about twenty minutes, although Ajax was the better team. Sparta’s few attacks didn’t cause Maarten Stekelenburg, or his defenders, much concern. But a tying goal remained a possibility, with such a minimal lead. One Sparta player who was in a position to do some damage to Ajax was Darko Badul. The forward, who was loaned out by Ajax, fought his duels well, namely against Toby Alderweireld, but in the end, he couldn’t make much happen. Urby Emanuelson hit the post twice in the first twenty minutes.
Ten minutes before the break, Gregory van der Wiel put a convincing end to the uncertainty. The right back reported for duty in the Rotterdammer’s box. His hard, diagonal shot found its way into the upper corner: 0-2. Sparta keeper Aleksander Seliga could only look back.
The second Amsterdam goal was the turning point in the match. From then on, Amsterdam didn’t have any trouble with the Eredivisie’s number 14 team. “An ideal scenario”, proclaimed Jol about the score build-up. “After that, we still got nine or ten chances. You can see that we have a good group. It’s clear.”
The Danish connection helped Ajax to a third goal after an hour. Christian Eriksen came through from the left side. The brand new Danish national team member saw his shot ticked in by fellow Dane and international team-mate Dennis Rommendahl. “We secretly practiced that together around the interland”, said Dennis Rommendahl of the Danish one-two, tongue in cheek. It gave Ajax an unexpected breather for the last half hour, allowing them to play problem free. Hyun Jun Suk, Gabri and Vurnon Anita enjoyed some playing time as substitutes.
With the 0-3 win, the Amsterdam team extended their unbeaten Eredivisie streak to six matches. The last goal against dates back to February 1, in the Klassieker against Feyenoord: 1-1. In the following six matches, Ajax scored twenty times, and Stekelenburg has kept a clean sheet.
“We’re doing well”, continued Jol during the press conference. “Our deficit against PSV and Twente got built up during some tough away matches. I’m happy that PSV has lost points, but we have to look to Twente, and hope that they lose points too. But, first and foremost, let’s focus on our own game.”
Three Ajax players started the game in Rotterdam on guard. Toby Alderweireld, Eyong Enoh and Demy de Zeeuw stayed clean, not incurring any costly extra yellow card, thus avoiding suspensions. Just like Luis Suarez, still suspended on Sunday, the three pillars will be present next week, and available to play against PSV. Ajax – PSV is shaping up to be both an important and spectacular match.
Follow Ajax TV for a summary of Sparta – Ajax, and reactions from Gregory van der Wiel and Siem de Jong.