AZ-Jong Ajax 2-0 (0-0) Jong Ajax boldly held their own against national champion AZ in the second round of the KNVB Cup. They did an excellent job during regular time, keeping the score at 0-0; however the game was quickly decided in overtime after substitute Moussa Dembélé scored twice.
The two teams’ starting positions before the match were as different as night and day. Full of promise, Jong Ajax had nothing to lose, and national champion AZ had everything to lose. Especially after the Alkmaar team’s three defeats earlier in the week, they had a lot to make up for. Ronald Koeman’s team clearly strained under the pressure during the first half. De ex-Ajax player had kept Moussa Dembélé on the sidelines, and could not count on Mounir El Hamdaoui.
Jong Ajax coach Pieter Huistra had four dispensation players on his team: keeper Kenneth Vermeer, defenders George Ogararu and Oleguer, midfielder Rasmus Lindgren and forward Marko Pantelic. Experienced players reinforced every line. With this reinforcement, the underdog had an auspicious first half. In the first ten minutes, Jong Ajax had expected AZ to show who was in charge in the DSB Stadium, but this didn’t happen. AZ played it safe, didn’t put too much pressure, and Jong Ajax could find their rhythm and play their own game. There were opportunities for Jeffrey Sarpong and Ogararu, who with Oleguer sometimes played surprisingly far up the field. Of course AZ had some chances as well, but Maarten Martens, Ari or Pellè didn’t convert.
It wasn’t until the start of the second half that AZ put on the pressure and aggressively pressed forward. This created some possibilities, but Jong Ajax came through these critical first ten minutes unscathed – with a bit of luck on their side. Pellè scored in the 57th minute, but the goal was disqualified as offside.
The game remained exciting. Soon after the disqualified goal, Huistra made a substitution. He brought in Javier Martina for Marvin Zeegelaar. Ajax also became more adventurous and captain Roly Bonevacia, who played an outstanding game, set up Pantelic. He hadn’t been dominant in the game, and now chose not to engage in the action, instead cleverly letting the ball go past the back line. The resulting corner kick didn’t constitute a threat.
With 25 minutes to play, Koeman decided to enter Belgian international Moussa Dembélé. Soon after, he had to bring in his last substitute (Poulsen Martens had been brought in after halftime). Keeper Romero couldn’t continue, and ex-Ajax player Erik Heijblok came on field. An interesting detail is that Heijblok played his only Ajax game in the cup match against Kozakken Boys. Pellè took a difficult shot eleven minutes before the end, but Vermeer fiercely defended his goal. Pellè was almost successful two minutes later, but this time the ball was deflected off the crossbar.
Following this, Ajax had complaining rights after referee Makkelie didn’t call a clear hand ball in AZ’s penalty area.
The score remained 0-0 and the game went into overtime. Ajax’s hopes were dashed shortly after, as Moussa Dembélé scored within one minute with a powerful shot, 1-0. Soon after, the Belgian brought another one home, making it 2-0, the end score.
Despite the defeat, Jong Ajax can be proud. They gave the national champion a run for their money. “And that’s what we had resolved to do” said Pieter Huistra at the press conference afterwards. “We were looking forward to this match for a long time. We wanted to show what we can do. With the help of a few A-team players, we succeeded nicely. We forced the national champion into overtime. But in the end, AZ deserved their win. At halftime, I worked through the organisation with the team. Young players sometimes have a hard time focussing for ninety minutes. That was the biggest challenge. But you could see that they were losing their focus. In the break we managed to sharpen it again, but we didn’t manage it for the overtime. At that point, the team gets tired and, and they got a setback with the opponent’s goal. Then you know that you’ll have a hard time.”