Ajax has had a majority stake in Ajax Cape Town in South Africa since 1999. In the Message from Cape Town column, we focus on African Ajax every Monday. This week, with keeper Sander Westerveld, we look back on the first week after summer break, a week in which Ajax Cape Town posted two nice wins.
The long period without competitive commitments pleased Westerveld, who returned to the Netherlands for ten days between Christmas and New Year. “I’ve never had such a nice break. It was a lot like preparations for a new season in the Netherlands. I’m enjoying myself every day here, enjoying the country, the culture, and the club. The whole family was glad to return to South Africa. That’s a good sign.”
After a long break due to the Africa Cup, Ajax Cape Town’s first keeper was on the field on Wednesday. That the match against Platinum Stars would turn out to be so dramatic and heroic was completely unexpected. In the closing phase of the match, coach Maarten Stekelenburg’s team turned a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 victory, thanks to goals from Manyama, Booth and Lolo; the last two goals occurred in the 91st and 95th minutes. “We now have a series of wins”, counts Westerveld. “The last one before the winter break was a 4-3 win and last week Wednesday, we resumed competition with a sensational 3-2 win. It’s very important now that we’re winning. At first the performances were up and down, but now we’re in a flow where things are working. It was a great crowd pleaser, as historically it had never happened that a team which was behind 0-2 with five minutes remaining comes back to win. Some say that it was luck, but you make your own luck. You can also say that we’re always looking for a way to win.”
This amazing feat against Platinum Stars was big news in South Africa. It was all even better since Cape Town, who plays with the youngest team in the PSL, kept a cool head in the match afterwards as well, and brought three points home from Durban. This match was also decided in the closing minutes. Twelve minutes before time, newcomer Akpabio scored the opening goal, and ten minutes later, Khame Billiat scored too. The fact that no goals had been scored until Akpabio’s goal was largely thanks to Westerveld himself, who was in outstanding form against Maritzburg United. The opponent’s website even described his saves as ‘world-class’. “It went well”, said the Ajax Cape Town keeper. “Originally, we weren’t sure if I would make the match, since I was injured to my thigh on Thursday. But I recovered quickly. Fortunately I didn’t have to shoot much, but I had a lot to do in the first half.”
Ajax Cape Town in in fourth place after the weekend, five points behind leader Sundowns, where Johan Neeskens is in charge. “Anything can still happen in this competition”, says Westerveld, full of hope and expectations. “After five starting players left this year, and Foppe de Haan went back to the Netherlands, and relatively inexperienced head coach Maarten Stekelenburg took over, expectations were pretty low. And we know that it would be tough. That’s why we took our time to build a new team. But if you’re only five points behind the leader in February/ March, you’re in good shape. There’s belief. We’re also playing in the Nedbank Cup. We’re going for it.”