Ajax came through its dress rehearsal very well. In the Estadio da Luz, Ajax, with a 0-1 win against Benfica, won the Eusebio Cup. Ricardo Kishna scored the only goal at the end of the match. Kenneth Vermeer stopped a Benfica penalty shortly before the end.
Ajax’s last meeting of the 2014-2015 pre-season pit the team against one of the finalists of the last UEFA Europa League. In the fantastic setting where the last UEFA Champions League final was played (the Madrid derby, Real against Atlético) the last details were worked on a few days before the Johan Cruijff Trophy match. Frank de Boer had called on ‘ninety per cent of the squad players’ who will play in next week’s upcoming match against PEC Zwolle. The season will be officially kicked off on Sunday with the match between the cup winner and the champion. The big question before was thus: is Ajax ready for the real competition, with the first measure being the battle for the Johan Cruijff Trophy?
Ajax was fresh and offensive in the stadium of light (Estadio da Luz). The pace was high at times and the play was varied in this first match in which this group of Ajax players would play for ninety minutes. Arek Milik is the first centre-forward choice. The same goes for winger forwards Ricardo Kishna (left) and Lasse Schone. The Dane has been suffering slight ankle pains in the past week, but was fit enough to play in sunny Lisbon. Controller Nick Viergever was flanked by Davy Klaassen and Lucas Andersen at midfield. Keeper Kenneth Vermeer found Ruben Ligeon, Mike van der Hoorn, captain Niklas Moisander and Nicolai Boilesen as the robust defensive team posted in front of him. When World Cup players Jasper Cillessen, Daley Blind and Joel Veltman report back to the club on August 4, the coach, who has set his sights on a fifth national title, will be spoiled for choice. Thulani Serero (groin), Viktor Fischer and Ricardo van Rhijn (hamstring, both) are injured. Given their experience, they will also be strong candidates for a starting spot.
Before the break, there was much activity in front of each goal. Ajax had keeper Vermeer to thank for his saves on shots from Gaitan and Cardozo. The deficit was personally avoided thanks to the Ajax player’s sublime reflexes. Combinations between Milik and Kishna created the most danger in front of Artur’s goal. Once, Kishna unfortunately mowed over the pass sent to him by Milik. When Milik was the target man, the centre forward came up just too short to extent the ball into the goal. Andersen created some danger shortly after that with a pivoting shot (which landed on Artur’s glove).
Shortly before the break, Kishna shot his team into the lead from a difficult corner. Via defender César’s body, the ball cannoned past grasping keeper Artur. After that, a whistling concert descended on the Benfica players from the 25.240 spectators. The Amsterdam team went into the break with the goal lead firmly in the pocket.
As simple as the game seemed to be at the halfway mark (during halftime, there was an exuberant but respectful tribute to club legend Eusebio), the second half quickly became much more complex. Ajax’s forwards were only sporadically visible, and when Jorge Jesus – Benfica’s flamboyant coach – made several substitutions, the pressure was on Vermeer’s goal. The keeper stood his ground once again, even in the diciest situations. A feline save on a Salvia attempt was among the highlights of the goalie’s day. The Amsterdammer even seemed to have saved his best, and most important work, for last. A slight foul on Jara seemed to open the door for Benfica to even up the game with a penalty kick. Vermeer crowned his perfect performance by grabbing onto the ball sturdily (the shot, however, had been weak). Ajax thus concluded its pre-season with a confidence-building win and prize.
On July 4, 2012, Ajax ended its pre-season with a 0-11 win against VV Oldenzaal in the Vrienden Cup 2012. Jan Vertonghen ended his last Ajax performance with a prize. Two years later Ajax defeated the Portuguese record-holding champion Benfica, to win the Eusebio Cup. A bit bigger, more prestigious. Ajax is taking steps.