In the KNVB Cup match against NAC Breda, Ajax has redeemed itself for its last competition loss. The game against the team from Breda delivered them a 4-1 win in the Amsterdam ArenA. Frank de Boer’s team thus reached the cup tournament’s semi-final. “It was very good, but we need to improve on our lesser moments”, was coach Frank de Boer’s evaluation of the victory. Ajax will face RKC Waalwijk in the semi-final in the Amsterdam ArenA.
Of course, Ajax was perfectly aware of what was expected. On Tuesday, FC Twente, FC Utrecht and RKC Waalwijk reached the cup tournament’s semi-finals. Last season’s cup winner must of course appear in the semi-finals. In this quarter-final match, Ajax had to make do without the suspended Luis Suarez for the last time. The Uruguayan sat out his last match of a seven match suspension. The injured Mounir El Hamdaoui was also a spectator, and coach Frank de Boer placed Siem de Jong once again as centre forward. Ajax’s number 10 was supported by Lorenzo Ebelicio (left), and Miralem Sulejmani (right flank).
The cup evening started poorly for Ajax. De Jong lost possession, leading to a lightning fast counter from NAC. After a few brief passes among the Breda natives, Fouad Idabdelhay found the ball. The forward outplayed Maarten Stekelenburg, who had come quite far out, and shot the ball into the empty Ajax goal: 0-1. It remained to be seen how Ajax would pull itself through this setback, especially in light of Sunday’s defeat to FC Utrecht. The only advantage of an early deficit was that there was still enough time to repair the damage. But Thursday evening’s match was not nearly as easy as last October’s competition match against NAC had been for Ajax. That evening, when Ajax and head sponsor AEGON had hosted the first Ajax reunion for former players, had ended with Ajax defeating NAC 3-0.
The tying goal came soon after. Jan Vertonghen’s hard shot onto the crossbar was a preface to the tying goal, as it appeared two minutes later when De Jong was considerably more successful in finishing. The forward crowned a beautiful possession, and short dribble, with a precise shot with his left foot. Keeper Jelle ten Rouwelaar could only watch the ball go in: 1-1. The damage had been repaired, and Ajax and NAC were on an even keel again.
The scales tipped in Ajax’s advantage after 35 minutes. Referee Danny Makkelie punished a foul made by captain Rob Penders on De Jong with a penalty. The team from Breda were severely punished with the penalty kick. Ajax didn’t hesitate: the decision gave the home team the opportunity they needed to take the lead. Just like he had been in the Klassieker, Miralem Sulejmani was a sure shot from the penalty kick spot: 2-1.
After the break, Vurnon Anita took over Demy de Zeeuw’s spot. Due to slight pain, the midfielder was swapped out as a precaution. The crowd got to see Anita, ‘new style’, at work. The Ajax player, who had been Martin Jol’s first choice as left back, is being played mainly as a midfielder by Frank de Boer. The newly shorn player was reminiscent, at a distance, of Urby Emanuelson, who recently left Ajax for AC Milan. Thus the popular Ajax player, who had made his AC Milan debut the previous evening, was still somewhat present in this stadium, albeit only in spirit.
After an hour of play, De Jong missed two great opportunities. The Ajax player could have done his team a great service by deciding the knock out game early on. Both of his attempts were saved by Ten Rouwelaar. Jan Vertonghen, who had come up by a corner, lifted the ball from a corner over an open goal. The cup match remained exciting, especially when Maarten Stekelenburg was forced to make a great save on a Donny Gorter volley. Ten Rouwelaar was exceptional on the opposite side, coming face to face with Daley Blind, and turning away his attempt.
“We were too inconsistent”, said Frank de Boer critically about his team’s performance. “We had good moments and weak ones. We could have made things easy on ourselves by taking better advantage of the chances we got”. De Boer used Enoh as an example of the inconsistency. “Eyong should have been more controlling before the break. Our organisation wasn’t good then. Enoh was fantastic after the break, and was the key to our win.”
Ajax’s missed opportunities only postponed the inevitable for NAC. Seven minutes before time, Anita, on a pass from Sulejmani, shot the ball past Ten Rouwelaar. The Serbian Ajax player delivered the 4-1 win personally. Sulejmani rounded off beautifully with a successful chip over Ten Rouwelaar. The Ajax player of the match highlighted his determining role in the cup win over NAC. Cup holder Ajax is still on track to winning its nineteenth cup in the club’s history. The team from Breda will need to recover from the heavy defeat. Coach Gert Aandewiel: “Ajax is waiting for us again on Sunday.”