Ajax’s first UEFA Champions League group match on Wednesday evening resulted in a tie. In an almost sold-out Amsterdam ArenA, Ajax and Olympique Lyon played to a 0-0 stalemate. The allotted points made for mixed feelings, more so since the stakes had been higher for Ajax than for the efficient French team.
Exactly seventeen years after Ajax’s CL debut, the Dutch champion started the tenth season of the all- star tournament on Wednesday evening. This first match against Lyon was crucial in the stride for second place in the pool. A strong start against their main competitor would have set the Amsterdam team on track for a successful European tournament. The scoreless tie was not the desired result.
Frank de Boer chose his words carefully to describe the 0-0 tie. “At the end of the day, this result gives you mixed feelings. We wanted to get three points, but in the end, we should be satisfied with the one point. Especially since both teams had chances, and Lyon played very effectively. They were very dangerous in transitions. That should teach us that we need to be more patient at those times in order to make the right decisions.”
De Boer chose to start the same players as last Saturday against Heracles. That meant that Kenneth Vermeer, Nicolai Boilesen, Derk Boerrigter and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson all made their debut at the highest European level. They each did a good job. Unfortunately, their baptism by fire wasn’t rewarded with a win, although their performance against Lyon bode well for the upcoming competition match against PSV on Sunday.
As expected, Ajax was the attacking team, and Lyon was the one waiting for the counter. That scenario resulted in several opportunities for Ajax in the first half. Specifically, the home club had several chances to score the opening goal with headers. Boerrigter, Vertonghen and Sulejmani all had close calls with headers at short range. Sulejmani’s attempt in particular, eight minutes before the break, deserved a better fate. After an outstanding Sigthórsson pass, he came face to face with keeper Lloris, but his header went wide.
Lyon proved to possess a dangerous counter during the second half. Former Excelsior player Michel Bastos sped towards Vermeer with a great opportunity ten minutes after play resumed. The Ajax keeper stood firm, preventing the goal with an outstretched leg. This rang in a phase in which the chances for an Ajax goal seemed to increase. Shots from Vertonghen and Eriksen didn’t faze the French national team’s keeper. The 24 keeper also had a rebuttal for a strong Sigthórsson header.
With ten minutes remaining on the clock, De Boer played his second to last trump card. After Anita had come in for Janssen, Dmitry Bulykin made his debut. To thunderous applause, the 31 year old Russian came onto the field in the hope that his first match wearing Ajax’s red and white would be an unforgettable one. But the Russian forward didn’t succeed in making the difference score – wise. On the other side of the field, man of the match Van der Wiel was outplayed by Jimmy Briand and Michel Bastos, resulting in a dangerous opportunity. A critical save by Vermeer prevented a last minute loss.
Thanks to Real Madrid’s win against Dinamo Zagreb (0-1), the other pool D match turned out well for Ajax. De Boer: “Now, we’ll face a difficult match against Real Madrid, and after that a double against Dinamo Zagreb. After that, we’ll have the return in Lyon, which, just like tonight’s match, could be decisive for us. They’ll probably be even stronger by then, but so will we.”