Ajax has not survived the final sixteen of the UEFA Europa Cup League. In a poor return match on Spartak Moscow’s artificial grass, the impetuous Ajax players found themselves facing a 3-0 defeat. The 2011-2012 season will bring De Boer’s squad a new chance at continental success.
Ajax remained inexplicably far below the level they had reached in the home game against Spartak Moscow. Their calculated position play in the first 45 minutes in the ArenA was very promising. The goal against them by Alex and the consequent defeat was a huge disappointment. Steeled by their belief in their own abilities, they felt they would be able to wrest many opportunities in the Luzhniki Stadium as well. So they thought beforehand. Chances and opportunities had to be seized in Moscow, whatever happened …..
Events took a completely different turn in the Russian capital on Thursday. The Ajax players appeared anxious and were far to sloppy when in possession of the ball. The Amsterdam game was impetuous and vulnerable. Spartak Moscow, the people’s club founded in 1922, was given and used plenty of time and room to play football. Dmitri Kombarov was the first to take advantage of Ajax’ weaknesses after 21 minutes of play. Launched by team captain Alex, the attacking twin, whose brother Kirill was in the defence, scored, cool as a cucumber, with his left foot,: 1-0.
Frank de Boer’s squad was fighting a losing battle from then on. In order to make up for the 0-1 score from the home game, Ajax needed an early goal on Russian soil. Because the visitors kept losing possession of the ball, after Kombarov’s goal as well, an equaliser seemed unlikely.
Despite the support of 200 Ajax fans who had travelled with them to the Luzhniki Stadium, Ajax suffered the second goal against them after only thirty minutes: 2-0. Shortly after Eriksen’s shot from afar landed on top of the goal, striker and star player Welliton did score. After Ajax had lost possession on Spartak’s half of the pitch, Welliton was the last pawn in a lightning counter. Just as his team mate Kombarov had done previously, Spartak’s number 11 scored with his left foot, after a short rush. After thirty minutes of play, the return match for a place in the quarter finals of the Europa League had all the ominous signs of a mission impossible.
It was thanks to goalkeeper Jeroen Verhoeven that Ajax didn’t take a third goal against them before half time. The stand in for the injured Maarten Stekelenburg, whose football season is probably over, stylishly knocked a dangerous shot by Evgeni Makeev out of the goal. Too few Ajax players reached their normal level of play before half time. Ajax’ team performance was below par and proved fatal against the dangerous combinations set up by Spartak Moscow.
Ajax manager De Boer attempted to turn things around after half time. Aras Özbiliz replaced Miralem Sulejmani, whilst Daley Blind was substituted by Eyong Enoh. Vurnon Anita, who began as controller on the midfield, dropped a line and continued play as left back. With Enoh on midfield, De Boer hoped for more structure to the game and a better connection with striker Siem de Jong in particular. Nine minutes after half time Alex hurt Ajax again. The Brazilian key player had already proven to have great ball control in the ArenA. The way in which he scored directly from a free kick in front of a home crowd, earned him great respect again. All Verhoeven could do was watch the free kick curl inward: 3-0.
Dario Cvitanich was brought in to reinforce the offence in the last thirty minutes. The Argentinian substituted for Eriksen, transforming De Jong to defensive midfielder. None of this fazed the Moscovites though. The trailing team from Amsterdam put the pressure on from a distance. Cvitanich’s long shot went across the goal. Fellow substitute Özbiliz even managed to hit the bar above goalkeeper Andriy Dykan, the ‘punching pillar’ from the home game. The ice cold evening in wintery Moscow seemed even chillier for Ajax. Ajax’ European tour is over for 2010-2011. Ajax is now still in the running for two titles. Besides the cup final against FC Twente on May 8th, the battle for the national title is entering it’s final stage. The realisation that Frank de Boer and his squad could still save the season by winning a prize is a little heart warming after the painful European elimination.
,,We lost both matches in the first half”, said Frank de Boer after the game. ,,Spartak Moscow played much better today, they had better position play and they felt more at home on artificial grass, although the latter is no excuse. We looked on apathetically before half time. They were more aggressive. They were more dominant than we were. We are glad that we straightened up in the second half. We must carry that through to Sunday, when we have another important match. Finally, I must compliment Spartak Moscow. They played better, I think they are a good squad and I wish them luck in the next round.”
Text: Ajax.nl/ Ronald Jonges