With the very young starters Vurnon Anita, Michael Timisela and Emmanuel Boakye, Ajax lost 3-2 at FC Groningen on Sunday. The youngsters were not to blame; the wave of injuries were responsible for the loss. The debut of Anita, only 16 years old, was a rare highlight on a for Ajax dark afternoon.
Two times Ajax fought back from a deficit. The third goal by FC Groningen proved fatal. The mostly young Ajax players fought for what they were worth, but the team, depleted by injuries, had nothing to show for their hard work and Groningen, one of the competitors for a spot in the playoffs, deserved the three points. Consonant with the excess of injuries, Hedwiges Maduro had to pull out shortly before the match. The Holland international was ill.
,,I told the young guys to keep it simple'', said coach Danny Blind. ,,Just do your job and keep playing.'' Vurnon Anita, the youngest of them all, could look back on a reasonable debut match in Ajax 1. The teenager made his presence known and he showed not to be plagued by stage fright. The many injuries forced Blind to improvise. For instance with Olaf Lindenbergh, who played as left back.
Bad luck struck early in the match. Thomas Vermaelen touched an effort by Glen Salmon with his hand. Evgeniy Levchenko converted the resulting penaly kick.
The home side could not hold on to the advantage long. Four minutes later, Klaas Jan Huntelaar headed in the equaliser from a cross by Markus Rosenberg: 1-1.
With Jeffrey Sarpong on for the injured Steven Pienaar after 30 minutes, Ajax seemd to reach halftime with the score level. But Erik Nevland struck in the 45th minute, when he fired the ball past Stekelenburg from a scrimmage: 2-1.
Despite Thomas Vermaelen's equaliser 20 minutes fater halftime, Ajax went down anyway. Mere minutes after Vermaelen's header Antoine van der Linden dealt Ajax a new blow when he was given enough space to shoot the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg with a volley: 3-2. Ajax knew they were defeated when Vermaelen was shown his second yellow card after fouling Levchenko.
Danny Blind hopes to see some players returning from injuries before Wednesday's Gatorade Cup semi-final against Roda JC. Maybe Hatem Trabelsi and Tomás Galásek can play then, and Maduro should have recovered from his illness. John Heitinga, Zdenek Grygera, Wesley Sneijder and Urby Emanuelson (to name but a few injured players) will not play in the Cup match. Whether Steven Pienaar's injury will keep him out long, will be addressed in the next few days.