The first half of a double-header against Benfica on Saturday brought Ajax to the Futebol Campus to face the Benfica Reserves. Several hours before the first teams of both clubs met in the Estadio da Luz, Ajax lost its first friendly match to ‘Benfica B’, 4-3. Substitute Anwar El Ghazi nonetheless played an important role again, scoring two goals.
Several days before the two friendlies, Frank de Boer had announced that the line-up of the second match would remain virtually unchanged for the Johan Cruijff Trophy match. The Ajax players who played at Benfica’s beautiful training and youth complex were thus informed of their place in the hierarchy.
Stefano Denswil was the captain against Sport Lisboa E Benfica B. The Zaandaam native formed a central duo with Jairo Riedewald. Mitchell Dijks and Kenny Tete were the wing defenders, left and right respectively, in front of keeper Peter Leeuwenburgh. Central midfielder Riechedly Bazoer found Lerin Duarte (left) and Tobias Sana (right) at his sides. The trio of midfielders was completed by right winger Sheraldo Becker, striker Richairo Zivkovic and left striker Kolbeinn Sigthórsson. The Portuguese double-header offered De Boer a first opportunity to see his players in action for ninety minutes. In the carefully built-up preparations, this was the first opportunity that the players had to play a full match.
At the Futebol Campus, it was both before and after the break that the right wingers made themselves heard. Before the break, Sheraldo Becker was the most outstanding Ajax player. The self-taught forward was at the root of several sharp Ajax attacks. Within fifteen minutes, Becker escaped the offside trap and placed Zivkovic in position to score the 0-1 goal from nearby. The formation of the record-holding Portuguese champions (they’ve won their national title 33 times, like Ajax) evened the game two minutes later via Rui Fonte: 1-1. After that, Becker sent Zivkovic another ready-made pass. This time, though, the striker who came from FC Groningen didn’t manage to score.
Denswil and Bazoer avoided a deficit for the Amsterdam team before halftime. The captain made a save at the goal line, after an attempt by Helder Costa. Bazoer came to the quick rescue of his keeper Leeuwenburgh, who had come out too far. In the lively duel, Denswil had seen his header in the beginning get saved by a Portuguese player. The play bounced back and forth in the steamy sports complex. Bazoer was unable to complete the match. The midfield controller was unceremoniously kicked out of the match fifteen minutes after the break. Bazoer was replaced by Danny Bakker. Anwar El Ghazi – Ajax’s top scorer in this pre-season – had found his spot in the team; the right winger replaced Becker.
El Ghazi needed very little time to make his presence felt in a much more imposing manner than his predecessor had in the first 45 minutes. El Ghazi simply continued in the same form he’s been showing up to now. Just five minutes after his entry, the winger did exactly what he’s been doing remarkably often during the pre-season: he scored. On a pass from right back Kenny Tete, El Ghazi scored with a header: 1-2. It was his seventh goal in the pre-season. Goal number eight followed shortly after. With a low shot, the right winger increased the lead to 1-3.
It seemed like a done deal. But the Lisbon team hadn’t said their final word. Former Portuguese international Hélder Cristovao’s team showed perseverance and courage. One week prior to the start of the Portuguese first division (the equivalent of the Jupiler League; the Ajax Reserves start on August 11 against Telstar), Benfica B fought alongside the Amsterdam team. In a chaotic closing phase, Kevin Friesenbichler’s stint as a substitution was worth its weight in gold. Freshly in the field, he scored right away: 2-3. Friesenbichler once again was invaluable soon after that with an assist to the scoring Goncalvo Guedes: 3-3. After Zivkovic had sent his own attempt onto the post, Helder Costa gave the home team the victory at the last minute. Shortly before the end, the midfielder scored the 4-3 goal. Ajax thus suffered its first loss of the pre-season.
Directly after the meeting at Benfica’s Futebol Campus, Frank de Boer and his staff rushed over to the Estadio da Luz, Benfica’s home stadium. At 20:45 (Dutch time), Ajax and Benfica’s first teams kick-off part two of the double-header.