Ajax took another step towards extending its championship. The Classic victory over Feyenoord (1-2) was extra sweet considering the loss of points suffered by title contender FC Twente. Frank de Boer’s team now enjoys an eight point lead on nearest competitors Twente and Vitesse.
“This wasn’t our best game, although we played with passion”, said winning coach Frank de Boer in retrospect. “We took a good step today. I’m very pleased with our recovery from the loss against Salzburg. You always need to wait and see how a team is going to react after a hopeless defeat.”
Ajax and Feyenoord each had something to redeem itself for in the sun-drenched and sold-out Kuip. The Amsterdam team was looking to make amends for a disheartening disqualification from the UEFA Europa League at the hands of FC Salzburg. In order to keep a sliver of hope alive for the championship, only a win would be good enough for the home team. At the Classic’s kick-off, the difference between rankings leader Ajax and number three Feyenoord amounted to eight points.
Feyenoord had done itself a disservice with last week’s last minute 2-2 tie at FC Twente. The Ajax players had defeated AZ convincingly, 4-0, in the same round of play. With eight rounds of play remaining in the Eredivisie – after the Classic – leader Ajax was in a position to take a good step towards prolonging its title. The tie between FC Utrecht and fellow title contender Twente (1-1, earlier on Sunday afternoon) had most certainly given Ajax extra motivation for the highly charged meeting in South Rotterdam.
Against AZ, Ricardo Kishna had scored his first goal as an Ajax player. The self-taught forward was the most surprising name in Frank de Boer’s squad. As right winger, Kishna formed an offensive trio with centre forward Siem de Jong and left forward Bojan. The loaned out player from Barcelona experienced a disappointing Classic. Bojan was forced to leave the match before halftime due to a knee injury. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson replaced him. The substitutes would prove their worth in later on in de Kuip, in a game that was more exciting than it was good.
Kishna – who made his squad debut with Ajax 1 on Sunday – made an immediate impact in the first half. The forward, with mercurial speed and a supple step, was noticeable for his brawn, despite some tactical miscalculations. After a messy first half hour, Kishna lost sight of his opponent, Bruno Martins Indi, who went on to assist his scoring centre forward, Graziano Pellè. In a period during which Niklas Moisander was being treated on the sidelines, the Italian took advantage of the defensive chaos and scored with a nice header: 1-0. De Boer: “It was bad that the goal came at the moment when Moisander was being treated. The goal might otherwise not have been scored.”
Just like in the first Classic of the season, Ajax went into a deficit. This ended up well for the Amsterdam team; in both competition and cup matches, Ajax has won the Classics in the ArenA. Defeating Feyenoord three times in one football year would be a real coup. Kishna made up for his sloppiness right before the break. This time he was the one who escaped from Martins Indi, and smoothly zigzagged his way through Feyenoord’s defense. Sigthórsson only needed to push the made-to-measure pass past Erwin Mulder: 1-1. The absence of Ajax supporters was sorely felt. You could hear a pin drop in De Kuip.
Ajax continued on the right path after the break when Davy Klaassen came close to scoring the 1-2 goal. The right midfielder shot diagonally in, but hit the post. Thulani Serero’s return to the Ajax eleven took about one hour; the South African – fit once again after a groin injury – substituted Lerin Duarte as a precaution. The final thirty minutes was sloppy as well. The historic match resulted in relatively few good opportunities in front of Mulder and Cillessen’s goals. The match certainly wasn’t dull. Wherever or whenever Ajax and Feyenoord meet, the atmosphere is always highly charged.
A rare moment in front of the Rotterdam goal helped Ajax into the lead. After a ball which was (too) simply given away by international Daryl Janmaat, a corner kick by Duarte ended up with Joël Veltman. The central defender shot spot-on: 1-2. De Kuip was hushed once again. Let’s hope that Ajax will be able to celebrate future victories at de Kuip with supporters in attendance.
Ajax didn’t have any more difficulties in de Kuip. Frank de Boer and his Ajax players took another important step towards earning their fourth national title in a row. The point difference between them and second placed FC Twente and Vitesse is now eight points. Ajax thus ended a tumultuous week with a big smile. De Boer: “I’m very satisfied. We reacted well when we went down 1-0. It wasn’t pretty, but you need to be able to win these kinds of matches, too.”