‘Mentally tough duel’ ends well

‘Mentally tough duel’ ends well

Without playing great football, Ajax has won its home match against VVV-Venlo. After a scoreless first half, Derk Boerrigter scored the opening goal right after the break. The second goal for the Amsterdam team came six minutes before the end. Danny Hoesen, making his completion debut, scored the winning goal, 2-0.

Ajax wanted to wash the bitter aftertaste of its last home game, a 0-2 loss to Vitesse, away with a great game against VVV-Venlo. But they needed to do it without the help of ill keeper Kenneth Vermeer, Toby Alderweireld (groin injury), and Ryan Babel (shoulder injury). Jasper Cillessen came in for his fifth competition match in an Ajax jersey, and Joël Veltman was placed in central defense. Viktor Fischer was placed at left back to make life difficult for VVV-Venlo.
In the Ajax Kick Off program brochure, De Boer said that he wasn’t expected an easy match against VVV. “Because, on paper, this should be the easiest match of them all today, it’s actually the toughest one mentally for a young group. I’ll be proud of the players if they walk off the field with three points tonight.”

And he had a lot to be proud of after ninety minutes, although Ajax didn’t take an early lead in the first half. The Limburg team folded like a harmonica around the slow Ajax attacks, and the Danish midfield wasn’t successful at feeding Boerrigter, Fischer, or backs Van Rhijn or Blind coming forward. The greatest danger was posed by Christian Eriksen. In the thirteenth minute, he sent his free kick wide, and in the 24th minute, he almost pivoted the ball into the goal from a corner. Finnish keeper Niki Mäenpää, perhaps inspired by his famous fellow Fin Jari Litmanen in the stands, ticked the ball over. Cillessen wasn’t put to the test too much, except for a play by Ricky van Haaren in the fourth minute. The entertainment value of the match was pretty low. “You need two teams for a good night”, said De Boer afterwards. “During the break, I told them that they needed to make more of those dead moments in the game if they couldn’t get through it by playing. I think that Derk Boerrigter paid attention.”

Because when Boerrigter received a free kick after being hauled to the ground, the winger claimed the ball himself. With a carpenter’s sharp eye, he found the hole in the wall and next to Mäenpää, scoring his first competition goal of the season, and the first since April 22, 2012, 1-0. “Seeing his reaction, a big weight was obviously lifted from his shoulders”, noted De Boer.

Boerrigter’s goal wasn’t the last ‘first’ of the season. In the 72nd minute, Danny Hoesen, after being in the basis against ONS Sneek and coming in as a substitute against Real Madrid, made his competition debut. The forward, who made way for Eriksen, brought great relief to the Amsterdam camp when he scored the second goal, 2-0, in the 84th minute. Things had been tense in the ArenA up until then, because eight minutes before that goal, substitute and former Ajax player Yanic Wildschut seemed to pull his team even. The low shot was an excellent save by Cillessen, who, just a bit later, let the ball slip when faced with VVV top shot Uche Nwofor. Fortunately this ended well and Hoesen scored two minutes later, to the great joy of the technical staff – who broke into a group hug – and all of the Ajax fans in the stadium.

Ajax made it through this dress rehearsal for Wednesday’s important Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund relatively unscathed. It wasn’t pretty, but with no goal against and three points, De Boer was very satisfied with his team. “I’m not unhappy”, said the coach afterwards. “The last phase has to improve. We’ve played three times now against similar opponents. We lost to Vitesse, but we beat PEC Zwolle and VVV-Venlo.”