Ajax can look forward to its 23rd appearance in the national cup final. Like last year, Ajax defeated a first division team in the cup semi-final. After Go Ahead Eagles in 2010, RKC Waalwijk was this year’s opponent. Ajax made the cold temperatures in the ArenA a bit more bearable on Thursday night by reaching the KNVB cup final with a 5-1 win. Current cup holder Ajax seems on course for its nineteenth cup title.
Ajax coach Frank de Boer gave several Ajax regulars a rest in this cup semi-final, which is a luxury given the players’ fully packed game schedule. Jeroen Verhoeven (ex RKC) once again got his chance between the posts. Rasmus Lindgren, Daley Blind and André Ooijer (who have all recently been relegated to the bench or substitutes) were granted a starting spot in the full ArenA.
Any chance that RKC had for an upset had vanished after the first fifteen minutes. After a through ball from Miralem Sulejmani, Lorenzo Ebecilio’s hard shot went in: 1-0. The Waalwijk team’s hope for success flickered once again fifteen minutes later. Daley Blind’s header went backwards past Verhoeven, into his own goal. The left back’s tying goal for RKC came from former Ajax player Derk Boerrigter’s free kick. Earlier, Ebecilio had the chance to score Ajax’s – and his own, in Ajax 1 – second goal ever. The left winger’s hard shot went just wide.
Just before the break, forward Mounir El Hamdaoui restored order to the game, after hitting the crossbar three minutes earlier. This time, it was Ajax who was helped by the opponent. Captain Frank van Mosselveld played the ball back too softly to keeper Ohad Levita. Sulejmani was on top of the ball quickly, after which El Hamdaoui shot simply from close by. The 2-1 was well deserved, considering the flow of the match. The Jupiler League’s number two hope for a spot in the cup final seemed shattered for the second time that evening.
“We were quite sloppy in the first half”, said De Boer during the press conference. “There was a lot of unnecessary loss of possession. Because we had gone up too far, we often lost the second ball. I made it clear that we needed to take more initiative in the second half. For example, Daley played very differently in the second half.”
Verhoeven made what was probably his most important save of the football evening. The keeper, who has a history in Waalwijk, got his fingers behind midfielder Toni Varela’s well placed shot. For tactical reasons, El Hamdaoui had been swapped for Vurnon Anita, who played the rest of the game at midfield. Siem de Jong took over as centre forward for the remaining time.
De Jong’s move resulted quickly in another goal for the home team. Daley Blind’s shot on goal landed in the RKC goal, courtesy of a helping foot from De Jong. The goal scorer proved himself worthy as a passer as well. Demy De Zeeuw was on the receiving end of number 10’s shot, and he coolly scored: 4-1. Ajax’s 6-0 score against Go Ahead Eagles, with which they reached last year’s final, seemed within reach once again.
In the remaining half hour, De Boer decided to retire van der Wiel, allowing the international to rest for a precious half hour. The right defender’s 150th duel ‘only’ lasted 64 minutes. Ajax continued the match with three ‘real’ defenders, with Anita defending well also. Substitute Christian Eriksen played a trusted, attacking role from midfield. Sulejmani came close to Ajax’s fifth of the evening from a penalty. The Serbian Ajax player was tackled by Robert Braber, after which he positioned himself on the penalty spot. Levita blocked the shot, and De Jong shot long on the rebound. The missed shot wasn’t really an issue. Ajax had already secured a spot in the final.
Another moment of celebration came with the fifth goal. De Jong’s 5-1 was the cherry on the cake of a great evening of football. Via Levita’s glove, the Ajax Player of the Match made good five minutes before time. Cup holder Ajax reached the cup final in style.
“It could have been much more than 5-1”, continued De Boer, after RKC coach Ruud Brood had said the same thing. “I thought the crowd was Man of the Match tonight. We tried to entertain the crowd until the last minute.”
On Wednesday, FC Twente had reached the cup final with a 1-0 win over FC Utrecht. Ajax will compete in an undoubtedly interesting cup match, with their nineteenth cup victory in club history at stake. “FC Twente – Ajax in the cup final in De Kuip is a great attraction”, said De Boer. “We have two teams with a great audience. The atmosphere will be good. Ajax and FC Twente are also fighting for the championship, so it doesn’t get better than this. Especially for the KNVB in this KNVB Cup tournament. For me, it’s special that FC Twente – Ajax will be my first final as head coach. If you want to win prizes, like I do, this is a great chance.”
Keep watching Ajax TV for a summary of Ajax – RKC, and reactions afterwards.