A 4-2 victory was good for Ajax, who fought off a possible attack by Feyenoord on the second place in the league. But the three points did not come cheap. Rafael van der Vaart, Maxwell, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jari Litmanen all went off the pitch with an injury. And with the return against AC Milan only four days away, that is bad news.
Roda JC, sixth in the Holland Casino Eredivisie, are aiming for European football. But on Saturday night, that was hardly noticable. Coach Wiljan Vloet: ,,We came to Amsterdam hoping to hurt Ajax with their busy schedule and their many injuries. we wanted to make them waste a lot of energy."
Roda did not succeed in their mission. The visitors left much space between the lines and the skillfull Ajax players knew what to do with that. After only sixteen minutes, Wesley Sneijder's third corner kick lead to the first goal. Sneijder found Chivu in the box, who headed the ball through to Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the second post. The Swedish striker made it 1-0 with a cool finish.
Ajax wanted and got more. To minutes after Ibrahimovic's goal, Rafael van der Vaart made it 2-0. Van der Meyde's cross was perfect for Van der Vaart, who less than half an hour later collided with Ger Senden and had to be taken off with a head injury, to head the ball home.
Before Van der Vaart's exit Ajax had already made their third goal. Wesley Sneijder fired a free kick to the low left corner. The youngster had practised that exact same free kick the entire week, and it paid off against Roda JC: 3-0.
The 3-0 was encouraging for Ajax, who - perhaps understandably considering the score and the fact that AC Milan have to be battled on Wednesday - left the initiative to Roda JC. Ajax's defence hadn't been tested seriously up to that moment due to Roda's poor offence. Shortly after Sneijder's goal that did happen and Ajax looked shaky.
Pasanen marked his man on the wrong side and Chivu was easily beaten by Ger Senden. Roda's veteran passed well to Sergio who left Lobont without a chance with a great strike: 3-1.
Worries arose for coach Ronald Koeman, who saw Maxwell and Van der Vaart disappear with injuries. After Maxwell had left, O'Brien had to move back to the left side of the defence and Yakubu went to the right. Witschge, who replaced Maxwell, went to left midfield. Koeman: ,,In hindsight, maybe not the right choice. With Yakubu out of the middle, Roda JC's forwards had too much room."
Ten minutes into the second half Koeman corrected things. Van Damme came on for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but not as a replacement striker but as the team's left back. O'Brien went back to the right and Litmanen moved forward to the position of striker.
Ajax were a bit stuck in the second half. The substitutions failed to put the home side at ease. Litmanen's touches were not up to their usual high standard and it was curious that O'Brien had a lot of trouble stopping his opponent's crosses on Ajax's right side.
Roda JC hardly seemed able to benefit from Ajax's lacklustre play in the second half. Only in the 80th minute, Sergio - one of the smallest players on the pitch - headed in a cross by Soetaers. Almost unmarked: 3-2. The match seemed to get a close finish. Roda was in a hurry, but so were the Ajax forwards.
It was Nourdin Boukhari, whose timely goal came two minutes after the 3-2, who ended Roda's hopes. He made it 4-2 in the rebound after Witschge's attempt had been saved. Koeman: ,,We played well in the first half and after three goals in ten minutes I thought we would have a great game. But our defence gave away too much room. We weren't marking them close enough. I kept thinking we would allow them a goal in the second half. That happened and we had to be careful. I also think we should have scored three of four times in the second half."
Referee Van Egmond denied Ajax one of those chances. Litmanen was pulled to the ground by Luijpers minutes before the end, but he was not awarded a penalty. The Finn was also visibly limping after that moment.
That brought the number of injuries to four: Van der Vaart, Maxwell, Ibrahimovic and Litmanen. ,,The doctor says Rafael has a mild concussion", Koeman gave a medical report. ,,He cannot remember certain things from the first half. That will be a problem for Wednesday. Maxwell just limped out of the dressing room. He was hit on the outside of his ankle. I took off Ibrahimovic because he had a groin injury. And Jari had a sore calf. Well, I guess it's all part of the game", a slightly desperate Koeman sighed. His injury list grows longer with every match.