Ajax-'rookies' off to an easy start in Tilburg

It is odd to be in the starting line up in your third year as an Ajax player. It happened to goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont. The away match in Tilburg against Willem II meant the first time for the Romanian that he was on goal from the start. He was not the only Ajax player to play from the first minute. Wesley Sneijder, 18 years old, did the same. Both will have happy memories of their first start, as Ajax reigned supreme and beat a poor Willem II with 0-6.

Lobont only had 72 minutes of experience in the Dutch league until this Sunday afternoon. And it wasn't a positive experience. On November 26 2000, away against FC Utrecht, he took over from Fred Grim, who had been sent off. Ajax had to play with ten players and despite fighting for what he was worth, Lobont could not prevent that Utrecht won 2-1.

This time the 25 year-old Romanian will have had a better time in goal. He must have liked what he saw the first 30 minutes. Better anyway than what his opposite number Geert de Vlieger saw coming at him. Willem II's defence blundered time and time again. After initial tries by Van der Meyde, Galasek and Zlatan, the former put Ajax in the lead after only eight minutes. Clumsy defending by Jaliens helped Van der Meyde, who ran through the middle and struck with his right foot from the edge of the box: 0-1.

Five minutes later Janssens midjudged the agile Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The striker gently put the ball past De Vlieger, 0-2. When referee Wegereef awarded Andy van der Meyde - much to the winger's own surprise - a penalty, Lobont's friend and compatriot Cristian Chivu got a chance to decide the match very quickly. Chivu put it away, with a little help from the inside of the post: 0-3.

Ronald Koeman must have enjoyed himself on the sideline. This is how the coach likes to see his team play. Previously he had complained that his team so often forgot to put away the opponent in an early stage of the game, and then had to fight for the entire time instead of routinely playing it out. No such worries this Sunday. The biggest chances were converted, although the halftime score could have been even higher in favour of the side from Amsterdam. But nobody minded this time.

Wesley Sneijder played his first official match in Ajax 1. The youngster, only 18 years of age, had been Ajax's left back in the two previous, friendly, matches. Now he was posted as central midfielder. A place where he played often in Ajax's youth teams. Koeman: ,,He has done well, though it is easy to grow in a squad that plays solidly. Young players like Sneijder and Seedorf give the team new elan, provide new impulses for the others.''

Sneijder covered a lot of ground, dished out clever passes and took care of the connection between defence and attack. ,,I prefer to play in a controling role in midfield, like today”, the rookie said. ,,When you win your debut 0-6, it's nice. We took advantage of Willem II's mistakes. But I thought I had some trouble early on, even though I worked hard. The second half was better. I got into it more. I nearly scored too, when someone blocked my shot halfway.”

Galasek, Zlatan and substitute Mido did manage add to the total in the second half. Nothing went the Tilburgers' way, especially in defence, and within 18 seconds after the start of the second half the ball was already in their net again. Tomas Galasek, who was yellow-carded in the first half, added to his old team's woes.

Willem II did try. The four-goal deficit was of course too much, but Simoms and Van der Gun were close to scoring. It was not to be. Zlatan netted his second and the team's fifth with a fantastic move and his replacement Mido chipped in number six after 78 minutes. ,,Zlatan was fantastic. He has made enormous progress'', Koeman thought. ,,The coin finally dropped for Zlatan. We never doubted his abilities, but he had to learn what it takes to be Ajax's number 9.''

Koeman had to do without O’Brien, Van der Vaart, Litmanen and Sikora. Andre Bergdolmo was slightly injured shortly before match day and Richard Witschge was troubled by stomach complaints. Pasanen formed the central defence with Chivu, Van Damme was the left back and Pienaar and Van der Meyde manned the wings. Van der Meijde was again posted on the left wing and he showed he likes it there. In a match where he can use his speed, move to the middle and fire with his right, he is a threat.

Van der Meyde did neglect to score more often this afternoon. Especially when Sneijder's shot came back off the crossbar he found himself before an open goal. The Dutch international released a wild attempt that went way over the goal.

In three days Ajax play Roda JC for the Amstel Cup and four days after that Feyenoord, who beat Twente 4-2, come to Amsterdam. Ajax are still two points behind league leaders PSV, who won 3-0 against RBC Roosendaal on Friday.