Ajax was unable to win its 150th Eredivisie match under Frank de Boer. The home game against NAC Breda, a candidate for degradation, resulted in a disappointing 0-0 stalemate. Viktor Fischer’s return, plus an almost-sure second-place finish were the only two highlights in an otherwise lackluster afternoon.
In this second to last home game of this season, De Boer chose Jairo Riedewald as left back. The youngster replaced the injured Nicolai Boilesen. Lucas Andersen got the nod as starting left forward. After being sidelined for fourteen months because of an injury, Viktor Fischer made his long-awaited return to the match selection. Four years to the day after signing his first Ajax contract, Fischer celebrated his return.
There were several more historic paralells to be drawn on April 19, 2015. On this exact date in 1995, Ajax qualified for the finals of the UEFA Champions League after defeating Bayern München 5-2. The left back from that golden 1994-1995 season in Ajax’s history has been Ajax’s head coach since December 2010. Demy de Zeeuw returned to the ArenA with NAC; the midfielder was one of Ajax’s pillars in both Martin Jol’s and De Boer’s 2010-2011 Ajax team.
Good news came from De Kuip to the Amsterdam ArenA before kick-off. Due to Feyenoord’s surprising loss to Go Ahead Eagles (0-1), Ajax could definitely secure second place by beating NAC. The Eagles victory also had a motivational effect on NAC. At kick-off in the ArenA duel, only one point separated the Deventer and Breda teams. Both clubs have been trying for months to avoid degradation. FC Dordrecht was the victim of the surprising outcome in Rotterdam – they are the ones who have been officially degraded out of the Eredivisie as a result. The team from South Holland only lasted one season in the Eredivisie.
For a long time, Ajax didn’t seem to want to unwrap this present from Rotterdam. NAC, forced to play without suspended head coach Robert Maaskant, coasted for a long time on the very few opportunities brought by the match. Adnane Tighadouini came face to face with Jasper Cillessen after fifteen minutes. The Ajacied didn’t allow the goal. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson had the first real chance for Ajax after 33 minutes. The centre forward rounded off good prep work by (mainly) Riedewald by almost scoring. Sigthórsson’s attempt went wide.
The rest of the first half was rife with opportunities for Ajax. Keeper Ten Rouwelaar stopped Sinkgraven’s attempt and a bit later, the goalie boxed a Bazoer shot away from the goal. Bazoer ended the first half with a well-placed shot that simply went wide. There was no comfort in the scoreless nature of the first half.
However, the applause Viktor Fischer received in the ArenA when he started warming up shortly after the break was truly heartwarming. This welcoming applause was only a taste of the cheering that Fischer would reap when he reported to the sidelines for his substitution. Sigthórsson’s replacement greeted the end of months of injury with hearty applause. Despite his long absence, Fischer directly brought a certain fire and flair to Ajax’s play. On his first play, the Dane immediately forced a corner. El Ghazi sent the corner kick over. The right winger saw his attempt, after a one-on-one with Ten Rouwelaar, land on top of the goal. A sharp attempt from Klaassen (header) was just out of reach from incoming Joël Veltman. The loathsome stalemate seemed determined to remain on the scoreboard of the orange coloured Ziggo stadium screens.
This last did well for Ajax when Mats Seuntjes appeared in front of Ajax’s goal. The centre forward received the ball from Sarpong and seemed on step away from scoring. To the Ajacieds’ relief and entertainment, Seuntjes messed up the – seemingly – perfect opportunity.
Substitutes Ricardo Kishna and Andersen had the last word, but were unable to bring the home team to victory. Kishna saw his attempt saved at the goal line, and Andersen was stymied by Ten Rouwelaar. The home game against degradation candidate NAC (down to 10 men in the final minutes after a red card for Gill Swerts) thus only delivered one point. With its fourth scoreless home game, Ajax posted a new club record. The last one, from 2005-2006 (three scoreless home games) was, unfortunately, ‘beaten’.
The knowledge that second place is essentially in the bag for Ajax (9 points ahead of Feyenoord with three games left) was only a small consolation on Sunday. “We started badly, mostly because we played at a much too slow pace”, said De Boer about the match against NAC. “That was also because NAC played a very compact game. Ajax didn’t gain control until fifteen minutes before halftime. Fortunately, NAC missed a sure goal. But this tie feels like a loss.”
De Boer had congratulated his friend and colleague Philip Cocu the previous evening with the championship. “I said to Philip that he should enjoy the title. Next year, we’re going to win it”, said De Boer. “I didn’t watch PSV- Heerenveen, because it was too painful. I hate that feeling when someone else takes a prize. But I’m happy for Phillip (Cocu) and his technical staff. They earned the title, fair and square.”