Ajax has almost made it to the UEFA Europa League round of sixteen. After a 0-3 win in Belgium, the return match in Amsterdam seems like a formality. However, Frank de Boer and Jan Vertonghen are wary of underestimating the opponent. On Wednesday afternoon, the Ajax duo looked ahead to the match.
Shortly before De Boer and Vertonghen enter the Amsterdam ArenA press room, a few last minute microphone tests take place. “Test, test, one, two.” The cameras are ready, as are the Europa League Match Press kits. The UEFA delegation is present and the reporters take place for the usual press conference on the eve of Ajax – Anderlecht.
On Thursday evening, Ajax will play the Europa League return match against RSC Anderlecht. Ajax won the first match of the series, 0-3, last week. Ajax is thus in an ideal position, and not only because the current selection is completely fit. But Jan Vertonghen is wary of underestimating the opponent. “Very few people expected us to win 3-0”, he says, looking back on the match in Brussels. “We now want to set things straight. We need to be on our guard. Anderlecht has a good team with exceptional players.”
Frank de Boer also expects an extremely motivated adversary, and is cautious. “Anderlecht is a great opponent. We need to stay focussed and concentrated, and stay positive about the upcoming match against PSV this Sunday. This is a game where we’ll need to give everything. We can only look ahead to the following match after the final whistle has blown.”
Anderlecht has had some bad luck leading up to the return match. Belgium’s champion will play on Thursday without Mbark Boussoufa. The player, formerly an Ajax youth player, is sick and will miss the game in Amsterdam. “Boussoufa is one of their most important players”, says Vertonghen. “I’m not too sad about it, but they do have several players who can do a good job filling in.”
Leading up to the match against Anderlecht, Vertonghen was in touch with Romelu Lukaku. “I’ve been in contact with Romelu via sms. I actually don’t like it when people contact me in that kind of situation. It was purely about business”, he says, laughing.
For this game against Anderlecht, several acquaintances of Vertonghen’s will be watching from the stands. The Ajax player has bought seventy tickets for his friends. A few friends who are also Anderlecht supporters, didn’t want to attend the return in Amsterdam after the 3-0 defeat. But for Vertonghen, there’s no money back guarantee. “I just said no, they have to come”, said the Belgian.
After the Anderlecht match, Ajax will need to focus on the important competition match against PSV on Sunday. Answering the question of whether he prefers to beat Anderlecht or PSV, he answers: “Against Anderlecht I’d like a 1-0 or 1-1 score, but I’d rather beat PSV”, he says, adding quickly: “But of course I want to continue in the Europa League.”
The Europa League match against Anderlecht begins on Thursday evening at 9.05pm. There are still tickets available for the match. Free sales are in effect, tickets are available for the general public.