Ajax won its last home game of 2012 against FC Groningen. In the Amsterdam ArenA, a show unfolded which, at times, was thrilling and blocked out the winter chill. Goals from Derk Boerrigter and Lasse Schöne, plus Lucas Andersen’s debut, were some of the few highlights.
The last home game of this calendar year started with one stirring minute of silence. The tragedy around the death of Buitenboys line referee Richard Nieuwenhuizen was respectfully acknowledged. “No football without respect” was the text seen on the boarding around the field. The message on the boards, and especially the personal messages for Nieuwenhuizen (including a picture of the victim of such senseless violence) gave the tribute a special impact. The players and the three referees also wore mourning bands. In the Amsterdam ArenA, and at several other football fields this weekend, the message that tolerance and respect must be fundamental elements on the field was reinforced. There is no place for aggression.
Back to the hard reality of the Ajax – FC Groningen, and Lasse Schöne stood in for the injured Christian Poulsen. The oldest Dane in the Ajax selection will be sidelined for two weeks after sustaining a hamstring injury in the midweek match against Real Madrid. Ajax may have lost in Madrid, but they posted a great achievement – they are the only Dutch club which will play European football after the winter break. The Amsterdam team will continue the season in the Europa League in 2013.
Despite its good third place finish in pool D of the Champions League, Ajax didn’t manage to impose on the match very often. The pace dragged on at a low pace, and passing was often sloppy. The Groningen team couldn’t complain at referee Richard Liesveld’s decision fifteen minutes into the game. Virgil van Dijk ‘only’ got a yellow card after he hacked Derk Boerrigter in full flight. Liesveld had no choice but to award a penalty to Ajax, and he could easily have sent Van Dijk off with a red card.
Siem de Jong didn’t manage to convert this golden opportunity. The Ajax captain’s shot was too soft and his penalty was stopped by Luciano da Silva. De Jong sent the rebound high over the goal. Ajax continued to hunt for a goal. Two minutes after his missed shot, De Jong’s header went just a fraction wide. A shot from right winger Boerrigter sailed over the Groningen keeper, Brazilian Luciano. Van Dijk played a dubious role once again after thirty minutes when made a bad interception of a Daley Blind attempt from the left. The unwitting attempt to score ended up on the roof of the Groningen goal.
Despite its lackluster play, Ajax did manage to score before halftime in this last home game of 2012. Boerrigter’s hard shot went right in before the break: 1-0. Good pre-work from Blind (pass) and centre forward Danny Hoesen (set-up) definitely deserve an honourable mention.
If the venom was absent from the first half, it certainly was felt early into the second half. Ricardo van Rhijn’s shot sped like a bullet onto the crossbar, leading indirectly to the 2-0 goal. On the rebound from right back, De Jong was briefly restrained by Kees Kwakman. Liesveld whistled once again for a penalty. Lasse Schöne did what De Jong hadn’t been able to complete earlier on: score from the penalty spot: 2-0.
Eriksen would have earned an honourable mention, if he had just managed to lob Toby Alderweireld’s cross pass, which he had received well, into the Groningen goal. The midfielder’s curved shot ended up behind the goal instead of in it. Lucas Andersen’s name is now indelibly linked to this match against FC Groningen, as he made his official Ajax debut in the 79th minute, coming in for Danny Hoesen. Andersen almost sealed his debut with a goal. The Ajax player’s shot unfortunately ended up against the post. Andersen’s debut and scoring opportunity were some of the few highlights in an otherwise cold and wintery football evening.
“In the past, we’ve sometimes struggled after a European match”, said Frank de Boer in retrospect during the press conference. “We did alright tonight, although we weren’t at our best. We made some bad decisions, especially before the break. But we kept playing. The players deserve a compliment. If you can come back after two tough matches against PSV and Real Madrid and dominate like this, then that’s pretty good. Even though you’d like to see a bit more.”