Frank de Boer and Niklas Moisander talked to Portuguese reporters on Friday evening about Ajax’s upcoming friendly matches, the last ones of the 2014-2015 season. The focus will be on the Eusebio Cup on Saturday evening, a match in which Ajax and Benfica will meet in their strongest formations. “If you want to win the prize, you need to play your best eleven”, said De Boer.
The second duel against Benfica will mark the end of the pre-season on Saturday. When the match in the majestic Estadio da Luz (stadium of light) is over, Ajax needs to be ready for the real work to start. On Sunday next week, Ajax kicks-off the 2014-2015 football year officially, playing for the Johan Cruijff Trophy. PEC Zwolle will be their opponent in the Amsterdam ArenA.
“Crucial is a big word. But I want to close this phase well, obviously”, was De Boer’s answer to the question about the ‘crucial’ importance of this last friendly match of the pre-season. The Ajax coach pointed out that his players (’90 percent of the line-up tomorrow evening will also be on the sheet against PEC Zwolle’) will be playing a complete match for the first time on Saturday. “If you want to win a prize, you need to play your best eleven. In addition to that, you want to see elements tomorrow that you trained on. We’re playing a good opponent tomorrow. We’re prepared, and we’re playing in the beautiful stadium of a finalist in the last UEFA Europa League. We’re looking forward to it. And I think we’re ready.”
De Boer spoke respectfully of club legend Eusebio, who passed away on January 5, 2014. The passing of Mister Benfica, also affectionately known as the Pearl of Mozambique, was a sad event in the football world. Among others, Mister Ajax Sjaak Swart, who met Eusebio’s Benfica several times in the sixties with Ajax, was moved. “I have a lot of respect for Eusebio”, said De Boer with respect. “He was one of the greatest and best players in the world. The fact that Ajax is playing in this tournament is a big honour.” The namesake will be absent for the first time as ‘his’ match is played. “For a club like Benfica, it’s very special. Accordingly, we’re very proud to be here. I hope it will be a great match.”
De Boer, emphatically: “Ajax always tries to make a great game, and to play dominantly. With respect for the opponent. In a European context, Benfica is always impressive. De club is hard to beat, especially at home. Nobody likes to play against Benfica. Whether it’s FC Barcelona or an English or German team; Benfica always gives its all. I hope that we get to meet Benfica later in the Champions League, which means that we will have both gone through. Tomorrow’s match is a great experience for the players. Honestly, I’m expecting an appealing match, with two teams which are going for the win.”
Captain Niklas Moisander agreed with his coach’s words. The Fin recognized the importance of the meeting with Benfica. “It’s an important game”, said Moisander. “Benfica, just like Ajax, was the national champion 33 times. Moreover, Benfica made the Europa League finals last year.”
In addition to the same number of national titles to their names, several other parallels exist between both teams. After the European success – although the EL finals were lost to Sevilla during penalties – Benfica saw many players leave. The Amsterdam team also say goodbye to their best players each year. This brings out the best in both teams. “Benfica always seems to have the right scouting and connections to get good players, and train them themselves”, says De Boer. “This combination ensures that Benfica always does well in their competition and in Europe. It’s pretty good if you lose 8 or 9 players and can still put up a good team. That’s also a big compliment to the coach.”
“At Ajax, we always look first to who we have in our academy; who we can use from the youth teams”, said De Boer, citing a part of the Ajax philosophy. “If we don’t have the right talent available, then you can’t hesitate to buy some. But Ajax is known as a club which looks first to its own youth.” Anwar El Ghazi is the latest diamond in the rough from the youth academy who has reached the A-selection.
De Boer said that he still didn’t know which game his high scoring wing forward – a real discovery during pre-season – will play on Saturday. Lasse Schöne is suffering from a painful ankle. Who knows, perhaps El Ghazi will be allowed to showcase his talents from the right flank in the Estadio da Luz, the setting for an undoubtedly emotional match for the Eusebio Cup. A selection of Ajax players will meet the Benfica Reserves during the afternoon.