Frank de Boer is on the eve of his fourth European battle as Ajax’ coach. As an Ajax player himself, he has played 69 European matches and after the battles with AC Milan and RSC Anderlecht, he still has a clean sheet. In the match against Spartak Moscow in the round of the final sixteen of the UEFA Europa League that clean sheet remains sacred to De Boer.
Frank de Boer has appealing figures to present. Since the beginning coach took over from Martin Jol at the end of last year, he has had twelve matches without any goals against him. Ajax only had to deal with goals against them on three occasions (five goals in all). The credit for these beautiful numbers doesn’t only go to Ajax’ defence. ,,It’s an achievement by the entire team. Defending starts up front. The opponent must feel the pressure everywhere when we lose possession of the ball.”
To illustrate the style of play Ajax has in mind, De Boer referred to Tuesday night’s Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal. Naturally the journalists present were among the 2.1 million people who watched the match on television. ,,They apply pressure for three seconds and immediately they gain possession of the ball. That’s only possible if you put in a lot of work. Up at the front as well. Everybody must be willing to help each other out. That is a premise. It’s also important to pace yourself at the appropriate moment. That should be done, strange as it may seem, when you are in possession of the ball. That is when you have the opportunity to pass the ball around and catch your breath before building up a new attack. Barcelona executes that perfectly, whereas we often want to charge too quickly. You can’t keep that up for an entire game.”
Another lesson De Boer referred to were the previous matches between Ajax and Spartak Moscow. Exactly thirteen years ago Ajax encountered the Russians in the quarter finals of the EUFA Cup. Back then assistant coach Danny Blind and De Boer were the central defending duo. ,,We were completely outclassed by them. Particularly in the home game we were too naive in the switchover. You mustn’t do that when facing Russian teams. That’s when you fall into their trap.”
As everyone is aware the Ajax coach will not be calling upon the services of Mounir El Hamdaoui for the two forthcoming matches in the Europa League, as he is on a disciplinary suspension. When asked whether the commotion surrounding the top scorer affects the team, De Boer answered: ,,Playing AZ last Sunday (4-0) we noticed it did not affect us. Hopefully that will be the case against Spartak Moscow tomorrow as well. We made a conscious decision to prepare for these two important matches in peace. And so far that is going very well.”
Team captain Maarten Stekelenburg will certainly be in attendance on Thursday evening. Ajax’ keeper has recovered from his groin injury. He enjoyed a match and a half of rest and that has done him good. Stekelenburg is looking forward to the double confrontation with Spartak Moscow. ,,We don’t regard the UEFA Europa League as something we do just for fun. We want to go through to the next round. It’s to our advantage to be playing at home first. We must keep a clean sheet in the ArenA, whatever happens.” De Boer, who indicated that Vurnon Anita would probably start the match again, agrees with his team captain: ,,We’re not going to spare any players. Matches against clubs from other cultures are an excellent experience, particularly for our young players.”
Early Wednesday afternoon just under 30,000 tickets had been sold for the match against Spartak Moscow. Stekelenburg: ,,Of course, we prefer to play in a sold out stadium. Luckily the supporters still have all day on Thursday to buy tickets. Hopefully many people will decide at the last moment to come to the game.”
Ajax - Spartak Moscow kicks off on Thursday at 9.05 pm. Tickets are freely available. The ticket offices at the stadium will be opened prior to the match. The ticket offices are situated on the North side of the stadium, near entrance D.