Ajax and AZ’s matchup on Sunday produced six goals, four for Ajax and two for the reigning national champion: 2-4. The first and second half were as different as night and day. It was ninety minutes of contrasting football, which delivered an important win for Ajax.
‘I’ve rarely experienced such a big contrast as this afternoon.” With this observation, Martin Jol explained the difference between the first and second half of the match. “During the first half, we played very poorly, but after halftime we were good. We were able to create opportunities, keep possession, and be creative. A world of difference”. AZ’s goal before half time, and Ajax’s four (plus one more for AZ) after rest reinforced Jol’s statement, and the impression that both team’s supporters left the game with.
It promised to be a charged match, and it was. In the run-up to the matchup in North Holland, there were enough elements add an extra dimension to the AZ-Ajax game. The DSB logo was notably absent on both the stadium name and the team jerseys. The recent developments surrounding the fallen DSB empire of AZ chairman Dirk Scheringa had made its mark on Alkmaar.
And then, there was the return of Demy de Zeeuw. De Ajax midfielder had played for AZ for the last four seasons, and left last summer after the team won the championship. His return to Alkmaar in an Ajax jersey didn’t go unnoticed. De Zeeuw appeared to remain composed, but had a difficult time making an impact during the first half, partly due to AZ’s tactical approach. “We knew that AZ would be provoking, and motivated,” said Jol after the match. The Ajax coach thought that the Alkmaar team played a “fantastic first half.” “And we were always one step behind. We didn’t even manage to keep ball possession.”
Jol’s comments made it clear that there was a significant difference between the first and second half. AZ set the game’s tone during the first 45 minutes. The home team were more threatening than Ajax. The national champion was in attacking mode, and this made for several dangerous moments in front of Stekelenberg’s goal. This culminated during the 28th minute, when Stijn Schaars’s shot hit the post, and a few moments later, Mounir El Hamdaoui scored the opening goal: 1-0. The League’s top scorer from last season had put his team ahead, thanks to a pass from Brett Holman.
The tide turned after half time. Gabri came in for Marko Pantelic, giving Ajax an extra controlling presence on midfield. As a result, De Zeeuw was able to play his game, although this wasn’t entirely due to the substitution, according to Jol. “Demy is a leading player. This didn’t come through in the first half, but that was the case with all of our players. In the second half, Demy, as well as the others, performed well.”
Ajax’s dominance in the second half seemed to be concentrated into a few minutes.
First, Emanuelson’s shot converted into a goal. From halfway within in the AZ half, he took a shot from the left sideline over AZ keeper Romero. The Argentinian national team’s keeper stood too far from the goal; Emanuelson’s shot went in, making the score 1-1. Afterwards, the Ajax player said that his play was intentional. “I had tried it earlier in the match, but Romero stopped the shot. This time, fortunately, the shot went in.”
Scarcely a few moments after the tying goal, came the next one. Dennis Rommendahl – who represented the only change from the Ajax-Dinamo Zagreb line up, at the expense of Sulejmani – placed the ball from the right wing, and Luis Suarez, at close range, scored his fourteenth goal in competition: 1-2.
The action in the 57th and 58th minute made a world of difference to the game. For Ajax as well as AZ, who suddenly were down. After 65 minutes, the home team’s misfortune continued, as Gregory van der Wiel, after a one-two with De Zeeuw, brought Ajax’s lead to 1-3. The defender scored from close range, just like Suarez had done.
With a 1-3 lead, Ajax had a relatively calm last half hour. They got even more breathing space during extra time, when Suarez scored his second – and Ajax’s fourth – goal of the afternoon. The Uruguayan helped his team (on a pass from Van der Wiel) to achieve a nice win. He also managed to improve his own statistics. After twenty official matches, Suarez’s goal count is twenty (including five in the Europa League).
The closing goal was for AZ. But substitute Pelle’s 2-4 was just a formality. It didn’t dampen Ajax’s spirits after the game. De Zeeuw: “I could only respond to the crowd’s jeering by helping the team to win. And that’s exactly what we did it this afternoon.”