On Thursday, Ajax posted a historic loss on a unique day. In a stadium filled with kids, Ajax lost to AZ at home for the first time since 1981. The current Eredivisie leader was too strong in the round of sixteen KNVB Cup match, and won 2-3. Siem de Jong scored both goals for Ajax. On Sunday, Ajax will meet AZ again.
Four days after returning from training camp in Brazil, Ajax started the second season half with the make-up match against AZ. The duel in the round of sixteen match of the KNVB Cup launched a critical series of matches in which Ajax will play away matches against AZ (again), and Feyenoord. Moreover, both Ajax and AZ were aware of the fact that the winner of this match was as good as assured of a semi-final spot, as the draw for the quarterfinals had resulted in a home match against the GVVV amateurs. So there was enough at stake in the cup version of the North Holland derby.
The game against AZ was played in a unique setting. A month after the much discussed incident around keeper Esteban, the aborted match was replayed on Thursday afternoon in a stadium filled with almost 23.000 kids and supervisors. In the tumultuous aftermath of the incident, it had been decided to replay the match in an empty stadium, but Ajax received permission earlier this month to invite kids from schools and sports clubs. With the help of a special Ajax ‘learning package’, the thousands to students enjoyed an educational afternoon in the ArenA. Frank de Boer: “The kids had a positive effect on me, and the players. It was definitely better than an empty stadium.”
After only ten minutes, the kids had a reason to cheer. On a pass from Christian Eriksen, Siem de Jong opened to score and gave Ajax a 1-0 lead. The Dane’s beautiful pass was crowned with a convincing shot from De Jong. Ajax’s centre forward showed that, after the practice matches against Almere City and Palmeiras, he’s once again fit – and sharp – enough for the big matches. In addition to De Jong, Ismaïl Aissati was also in the starting line-up on left flank. This was the Moroccan’s second time in the starting line-up, after the away game at RKC Waalwijk.
Ajax’s quick 1-0 lead was followed by a plethora of opportunities and goals. AZ showed their fighting spirit by erasing their deficit before the break. Brett Holman’s shot hit the post, after which Maarten Martens tied the game for AZ midway through the first half. On a pass from Charlison Benschop, the Belgian made good at close range. In the 32nd minute, AZ struck again. Soon after a great chance for Roy Beerens, who didn’t manage to ball properly, Benschop put AZ in the lead. On a Rasmus Elm pass, the centre forward brought the young AZ fans to their feet for the second time.
Soon after the second goal against, Ajax recovered. After a good opportunity for Miralem Sulejmani, De Jong led his team forward again. A deflected shot from Eriksen ended up at De Jong’s feet, and he scored his second goal of the cup tournament from close by: 2-2. An unfortunate handball via Toby Alderweireld within the box gave the visiting team the chance to score their third goal via a penalty kick. Elm didn’t waste the opportunity: 2-3.
De Boer thought the penalty was ‘heavily punished’, noting at the same time that Ajax had lost its steam. “Before the goal against, we were playing better in the first ten minutes of the second half. After that, we were leaving more openings and weren’t playing well. In fact, we weren’t really in the game anymore after the 2-3 goal.”
In the closing phase of regular time, Ajax tried to give the team a new boost on offense. With an eye on a potential overtime – and Sunday’s match against AZ – De Boer took Theo Janssen and De Boer out of the match early. With fresh Ajax and AZ reinforcements on field, further goals were elusive. To the sound of a loud countdown from the kids, AZ didn’t squander their win. It meant that AZ posted its first victory in Amsterdam since 1981. Ajax suffered a historic loss on this special day. De Boer: “AZ is the rightful winner. We’ll have to do better on Sunday. And we’re planning doing just that.”