“It was a devil of a match”, admitted coach Frank de Boer after the duel against De Graafschap. But thanks to a vigilant Maarten Stekelenburg and two attentive forwards, Mounir El Hamdaoui and Siem de Jong, Ajax pulled off a 2-0 win.
After a solid away win at NAC Breda, the home crowd in the Amsterdam ArenA were ready for more of the same. The opponent was De Graafschap, a team who have managed to tie Ajax in Amsterdam twice in the past, but not to win. The guests, who occupy a modest twelfth place in the rankings, didn’t go down without a fight. “We don’t have anything to lose”, said former Ajax player Vito Wormgoor before the match. And, although he wasn’t in De Graafschap’s selection, his words transcended. The Graafschap began the match very aggressively. They also had the first opportunity of the match, via another former Ajax player, Rydell Poepon. Jan Vertonghen spoiled the opportunity.
Ajax was mostly sloppy, and was vigorously out done by De Graafschap. It wasn’t until the twentieth minute that they finally applied some pressure out front, and a few opportunities arose. Siem de Jong shot over twice, and Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld’s free kicks ended up just over Boy Waterman’s crossbar, who incidentally is also a former Ajax player. Ajax finally made good one minute before the break. Mounir El Hamdaoui scored the opening goal after having sought the attack on the left side, found Ebecilio, and made it to the goal on time to push in the rebound, 1-0. It was his hundredth professional goal. “The 1-0 before halftime was fortunate, and welcome, for us”, said de Boer afterwards at the press conference. “During the break, I brought their attention to the fact that we could have been good on attack via the backs. That we should have played from right to left quickly, and that you can break an opponent that way. But that plan fell through, partly because we lingered too much.”
Ajax tried to put the coach’s words into action during the second half, but didn’t meet with much success. “At a certain moment, six passes went wrong, and it wasn’t even due to pressure from the opponent”, said de Boer. “That weak period remained until the end of the match. I’m disappointed about that, because we’ve been seeing improvements during the trainings. Fortunately, the players were also aware that things weren’t going well. No, this was more of a step backwards than forwards.” Ajax did make it 2-0 thanks to a solid Siem de Jong goal, who moved to centre forward after Vurnon Anita came in for Miralem Sulejmani.