For a long time in the Ijsseldata Stadium, Ajax seemed headed for a loss against PEC Zwolle. Substitute Kolbeinn Sigthórsson saved the Amsterdam team from this fate. The Icelander scored in the 89th minute, bringing the visitors even with cup finalist PEC: 1-1. Ajax thus secured second place in the Eredivisie, as well as participation in the Champions League qualifying rounds.
The real excitement in this 32nd round of Eredivisie play came from many fields. Ajax had only one mission in Zwolle: win one point in order to secure second place. That position was Ajax’s for the taking. Their lead on number three Feyenoord (9 points) is too big to catch up.
But PEC had a different approach in the sold-out Ijsseldata Stadium. The highlight of their season will be next week’s cup final in de Kuip, where they, the current champion, will try to win the KNVB Cup again.
Leading up to the match, PEC coach Ron Jans demanded a good dress rehearsal from his team. They rose to the challenge. PEC Zwolle took charge in the first half. Tomás Necid (wide header), Sheraldo Becker (shot saved by Cillessen) and Mustafa Saymak (wide attempt) left the visitors on their toes right away.
Ajax had no reply to this in the first half. In the opening phase, Davy Klaasen shot over. With halftime approaching, Anwar El Ghazi saw his attempt turned away by keeper Warner Hahn. The fear that the Zwolle team had inspired in their Amsterdam opponents after their last few meetings (among others, defeating Ajax in the cup finals, and the match for the Johan Cruijff Shield) seemed to haunt the Ajacieds again. On the other hand, Zwolle was on a high from their last four undefeated games against Ajax. The Amsterdam team started Sunday’s match enjoying a positive streak of ten straight undefeated matches against PEC in Eredivisie play.
The fact that Ajax had basically already secured second place offered Frank de Boer the luxury of focussing on next season. The Ajax coach already trained on Friday with Kenny Tete as right back in his (contemplated) squad. The same went for central defender Jairo Riedewald. The two youngsters appeared, as had been expected, at the kick-off in the Ijsseldata Stadium. During his press conference, De Boer had announced that Fischer was ready for a starting spot. One week after his return against NAC, after being sidelined for fourteen months due to injury, the Dane was the starting centre forward.
Where the Zwolle team had waited for for an entire half came after the break. A Zwolle lead was unavoidable. In the 48th minute, Jesper Drost sent the ball convincingly past Jasper Cillessen: 1-0. Was Ajax headed to its first ever defeat on artificial turf? Substitute Lasse Schöne – who replaced fellow Dane Lucas Andersen after the break – tried to turn the tide with a convincing attempt from a free kick. The shot posed no problem for Hahn. El Ghazi’s shot also was stopped by PEC’s trusty goalkeeper. Between these Ajax opportunities, Cillessen stopped yet another attempt. The Dutch international prevented PEC captain Bram van Polen from scoring.
Ajax put on the pressure, but took a long time to make good – so long, in fact, that they seemed to be heading for defeat. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson came in for the exhausted Fischer in the last half hour. Ajax’s only true crowbar, Mike van der Hoorn, had to show his stuff in the last ten minutes. The defender had earned this title earlier this season in the away game against Excelsior.
In Zwolle, Van der Hoorn proved his value again. As extra forward, he forced a corner in the last minutes. From this corner kick, Sightórsson scored. So, it was two super subs who helps Ajax to victory on this otherwise meagre football afternoon.