Ajax posted an important win against NEC in the race for the national championship. Thanks to goals from Viktor Fischer (2x), Ryan Babel, and an own goal from NEC player Rens van Eijden, the final score was 4-1 in the Amsterdam ArenA. While competitors Feyenoord and PSV squandered points, Frank de Boer’s team anchored itself to the top spot.
Ajax started strongly against the opponents from Nijmegen. Jan Wegereef’s opening whistle had just only blown when centre forward Kolbeinn Sigthórsson made an attempt on goal. His shot lacked precision, but this promising start had thousands of fans on the edge of their seat right away. It would turn out to be a good afternoon in the sold out Amsterdam ArenA. At least, in theory. Considering the number of empty seats in the stadium, many Ajax fans most likely had family commitments on Easter Sunday.
Although Sigthórsson’s missed opportunity seemed to signal the start of a tornado, NEC held on strong in the game’s opening phase. In fact, thanks to Melvin Platje, who was downright dangerous at times, the Nijmegen team came out looking good several times. Keeper Kenneth Vermeer wouldn’t be tested yet, but this was mainly due to sloppy finishing by NEC. Alex Pastoor’s team would be plagued with missing good opportunities. NEC had several of these, but even the ever lurking Platje wasn’t shooting sharply. As Pastoor noted in the press conference afterwards: “We were able to bark once in a while, but not bite.”
Then Ajax. They starred in a true parade of missed chances. First it was captain Siem de Jong who sent a header hard against the crossbar, before Viktor Fischer and Derk Boerrigter missed two good shots. One with the foot, and another with a head. Goals were in the air, in any case.
It was the same Fischer who, minutes before, had made the stadium shake in its foundations. Made free by Daley Blind and Siem de Jong’s good play, Fischer slid the ball carefully into the ropes: 1-0. Not even three minutes later, the crowd was calling for ten goals. The reason: an own goal by NEC defender Rens van Eijden. The 2-0 goal wasn’t pretty, but it was the beauty of what happened before that was remarkable. So-called tiki-taka football in the guests’ penalty kick area brought the ball to Sigthórsson’s feet. He attempted to score from his standing leg. It would undoubtedly have been the crowning glory on a great attack, but it was Van Eijden who gave the deciding kick in the end.
The 3-0 goal was calling after that, but more than fifteen minutes elapsed before Ajax scored the third one. A battalion of opportunities presented themselves before that, for Derk Boerrigter for example. But whatever the left winger attempted, the ball simply wouldn’t go in. Or Babos was too great an obstacle, or the ball disappeared in the stands. In part due to the many missed opportunities, there was grumbling in the stands. Ajax may have been dominant, but the crowd wanted goals that just weren’t coming.
Coach Frank de Boer had mixed feelings about the second half. “We were strong in the first half. We score two great goals, and have a chance to make it 3-0 or 4-0. But I thought we were too inconsistent in the second half. We were sloppy, didn’t hang on to the ball enough. NEC was more daring in their play and with a bit of luck, they could have come back into the match.”
But that didn’t happen. Instead of that, Ajax increased the score. IN the 77th minute, the fans were treated to what they wanted so badly: a goal. And what a goal it was. Viktor Fischer’s goal was replayed on the screens no fewer than four times, and after each time, cheers of admiration resounded from every corner of the ArenA. To illustrate: Fischer approaches the box and surprises friend and foe with an unstoppable chip ball. NEC keeper Babos may have the stature of a giant, but he could only stand by and watch Fischer’s chip in his helplessness. There’s a reason that Fischer was selected Ajax player of the match.
Seconds later, Nick van Velden did something in return on behalf of NEC, but the final say would be Ajax’s. More specifically: Ryan Babel’s. He crowned his return to the first team with a goal in the 81st minute. After the ball was turned away by Babos, Babel was alert and sent the ball into the free corner, to Frank de Boer’s satisfaction. The coach was pleased with the way Babel came in and substituted. “It’s good that Ryan’s knocking on the door. That forces others to remain sharp in this phase. Nobody should think that they can get away with free-wheeling.”
Thanks to this win and Feyenoord’s and PSV’s loss of points, Ajax currently enjoys a three point lead in the Eredivisie’s top spot.