Ajax will play European football after the winter break. This was Frank de Boer’s reward for his successful debut as Ajax’s head coach. Barely 48 hours after signing on for the job, the interim coach posted a fine and well deserved 0-2 win at AC Milan, in Ajax’s last Champions League match.
De Boer’s message was loud and clear. Ajax’s new coach wants to see his team enjoy themselves more. And they did. It was obvious, both from the players’ faces, and the way they played. Ajax played a straightforward, open game in their coach’s debut. The fact that they’ll play European football after the winter break was a bonus, both financial and sport wise.
De Boer made an impact immediately with his line-up in Milan. Martin Jol’s successor started Mounir El Hamdaoui on the bench, choosing Siem de Jong instead at centre forward, with Christian Eriksen behind him. Captain Luis Suarez, who is sitting out a long competition suspension, also appeared in Ajax’s last Champions League match.
Ajax’s offensive formation, with Suarez and Sulejmani in the wings, was effective from the start. With five corners within twelve minutes, De Boer’s team came close to Milan’s goal frequently. In front of 73.000 spectators, among which was Ajax’s guest of honour, Jaap Stam, Ajax played with the passion and flair which had been sorely missing of late. A good shot by Eriksen in the first half hour was one of the highlights, heartily cheered on by the 1.800 Ajax fans who had come along. Nearing the break, Italy’s first team took over the momentum, with Ronaldinho testing Stekelenburg with a header, but Ajax came through this period unscathed.
At the start of the second half, Ajax’s spot in European football after the winter break was secured. As Ajax was dependent on an Auxerre tie, the news after the break on the giant San Siro screens was reassuring. Group winner Real Madrid’s 2-0 lead confirmed Ajax’s spot in European football through the winter. With this knowledge, Demy de Zeeuw’s goal a few minutes later was extra sweet. De Jong’s blocked attempt was sent in decisively by De Zeeuw’s low shot. His goal from the edge of the box brought Ajax to a well-deserved 1-0 lead in the 57th minute.
Ajax’s fairy tale got even better about ten minutes after the opening goal. On a pass from Suarez, Alderweireld made good with a precise long range shot. Ajax had the luxury of a 0-2 lead three quarters of the way through the match. Milan, who had already qualified for the next round, then brought former Ajax player Zlatan Ibrahimovic onto the field, showing that they weren’t going down without a fight.
During the last half hour, Ajax nursed their lead, and their supporters had the chance to cheer another former Ajax player, Clarence Seedorf. Moreover, De Boer kept his personal record intact, winning his fourth match with Ajax against Milan. In the nineties, he was successful three times as a player against the red and black clad team. His first win as head coach sharpened his record, as he kept a clean sheet against Milan for the fourth time in a row. It was a well-earned success for an offensive Ajax. Neither De Boer nor Ajax could have wished for a better debut.