Ajax squandered valuable points at ADO Den Haag on Sunday. In the Kyocera Stadium, Ajax showed two faces. Ajax’s poor first half was followed by a decent second half. Ajax escaped quite well with a 1-1 tie. De Boer: “Today it was about mentality, and we didn’t realize that until after the first hour.”
The standard question with a match following a midweek European duel is: how will the transition between Europe to Eredivisie go? The answer was disappointing at halftime in Kyocera Stadium: Ajax’s play was mediocre to bad. ADO Den Haag normally keeps its fury hidden until the last fifteen minutes, the so-called Den Haag fifteen minutes. But against Ajax, in what was the Match of the Year for the Den Haag crowd, the Den Haag fifteen minutes seemed to have moved up to the first fifteen minutes of the match. Coach Maurice Steijn’s team opened with a thunderstorm. Ajax opened with a trickle. The result was three big scoring opportunities for ADO in the first fifteen minutes.
After six minutes, Mike van Duinen was allowed a clear header. Ajax barely escaped. In the same minute, Jens Toornstra had all the time and space he needed to take a close range shot. Vermeer ticked the ball away onto the crossbar and Ajax escaped again. Three times turned out to be lucky for The Hague. In the fourteenth minute, central defender Tom Beugelsdijk was rewarded for his attempt. On a Danny Holla corner, the tall central defender tipped the ball in simply and without any resistance: 1-0. Ajax finally got what it deserved after forty five minutes of poor playing: a deficit. And the fact that it was only a one goal deficit was lucky for Ajax. As strong as Ajax seemed against Borussia Dortmund, they appeared mediocre in ‘de Residentie’ against ADO Den Haag.
For the match against ADO, Frank de Boer had amended his team in a few spots after the Champions League meeting against the Germans. The hero of the midweek game, Ryan Babel, moved a spot to the left in the offense. Siem de Jong was the centre forward again. Jody Lukoki took over Tobias Sana’s spot as right winger. Derk Boerrigter and Christian Poulsen – who were in the starting team at the former Westfalenstadion – were relegated to starting on the bench in The Hague. Ajax didn’t have much to bring against ADO during the first half. The reigning national champion let itself get dragged down to the level of hard knocks and body to body duels. This is exactly the level at which the The Hague team feels most comfortable. Compared to ADO’s three golden opportunities before the break, Ajax wasn’t able to come up with a decent answer. The fact that Thulani Serero left the field with a groin injury after twenty minutes was an extra blow. After that, Poulsen returned as controller in the Ajax midfield.
During the break, De Boer substituted Lasse Schöne for Boerrigter. The substitute returned to the team as left winger. Babel was once again – just like in Dortmund – centre forward. Siem de Jong took over the free spot at midfield. That was also in accordance with the ‘German formula’. After the break, Ajax immediately showed more hunger than before it. On a minor opportunity for Boerrigter (shot), Babel also had an opportunity. The brand new striker saw Robert Zwinkels turn away his attempt. The keeper, a former Ajax player, also had a reply to a header from De Jong, who continued to be of great attacking value as a midfielder.
The guests finally made good a minute after captain De Jong’s header. Right back Ricardo van Rhijn rounded off his charge with a pass to Babel. The ADO defense’s mistakes were mercilessly punished by the Ajax player wearing number 48: 1-1. After fifteen minutes of the second half, the Amsterdam team was suddenly playing with a different perspective: a more hopeful and optimistic one. On the long road to the national championship, it’s critical to avoid any unnecessary loss of points. Would this be the Ajax fifteen minutes?
Despite Miralem Sulejmani coming in for the mediocre Lukoki, Ajax wasn’t able to avoid a loss of points. They applied pressure, but opportunities for the strong substitute Boerrigter (two attempts, two saves by Zwinkels), plus a dangerous free kick from Sulejmani didn’t bring Ajax any further. The one point acquired in The Hague was thoroughly celebrated as a victory of sorts. On this Sunday, that seemed to be the most that the national champions could hope for.
“This morning, I didn’t put much on their plate. I only said that today, it would be about mentality”, said Frank de Boer about the tie. “We – all 18 players in the match selection – need to be here from the first second. We weren’t. At the break, I could have swapped 6,7 players. It was only after an hour that we showed some, or even more, aggression, and then ADO had a tough time. It’s too bad that by that point, we only had half an hour left. You always need to have the foundations in your pocket, as Leo Beenhakker used to say in my time. Some guys had left it at home. This was a deserved tie.”