Ajax can exit the UEFA Cup with their heads held high. Marco van Basten's team forced Olympique Marseille to an overtime match, but had to surrender in the extra period.
What an irony! Ajax celebrated their 109th birthday on Wednesday and conceded the decisive goal after exactly 109 minutes against Olympique Marseille. Tyrone Mears's header made it 2-2 and with that Ajax were out of the UEFA Cup. A bitter end of a match in which Ajax had at times outclassed the French opponent. Marseille coach Erik Gerets had trouble believing it all. ,,I am still recovering”, the Belgian said. ,,Last week we were better, but this time the roles were reversed.” Losing coach Van Basten looked back on the match with a good feeling, despite the elimination. ,,We dominated and controlled the match. From the first until the 109th minute I had a feeling we would pull it off. It went well and it felt good. That we did not make it, is bitter and hurts, but that is football.” Ajax played with passion from the very start. The team had to erase a 2-1 deficit from the first leg. The home side wasted no time waiting and went on the hunt for the first goal from the beginning. It almost came after four minutes when Luis Suarez had a free header, but he could not give the ball enough pace. More chances followed before Marseille had their first chance in the 21st minute. Niang scored, but he was offside. Ajax answered ten minutes later when Bruno Silva crossed to Suarez who just missed. Two minutes later Ajax took the lead. After a pass by Suarez, Eyong Enoh scored his first goal for Ajax. The resulting joy was short-lived however, because two minutes later, Marseille scored the equaliser through Mamadou Niang. ,,We should have taken fewer risks after our goal”, Van Basten said. ,,With 1-0 we would have gone through.” Ajax were still the better team in the second half and were rewarded for their efforts in the 74th minute. With a great move Suarez fooled the Marseille defence and he crossed to Sulejmani, who scored with a header. During the overtime period, Van Basten brought on Leonardo for Ismaïl Aissati and Dario Cvitanich for Sulejmani. But Marseille hung on and struck after 109 minutes. Tyrone Mears headed the ball in when Ajax could not clear it. Despite the bitter end of a great birthday party, a sense of pride could be felt in and around the ArenA. ,,This match just was very positive”, Van Basten said. ,,It is also important that the guys gained much experience. The next weeks, in the last stages of the league, we have to use that.”