Ajax was on full steam in the home match against Heracles Almelo, although the battalion of opportunities they had wasn’t translated into any goals until after the break. The 6-0 win was the logical conclusion. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson embodied the encore on this amazing afternoon.
Title competitors PSV, FC Twente, Feyenoord and SC Heerenveen all played on Saturday, and didn’t squander any points. Ajax’s job (and AZ’s, later on Sunday afternoon) was to turn their competition matches into victories. To achieve the desired, optimal result, Frank de Boer brought Theo Janssen back into the starting eleven. The experienced player was suspended for last week’s competition match against PSV. Lorenzo Ebecilio and Aras Özbiliz were the starting left and right wingers.
During that match, Ismaïl Aissati had played a crucial role, but the left winger was absent on Sunday due to a throat infection. The lefty’s absence left a free spot for Sigthórsson. The Icelander thus made his re-entry in De Boer’s selection against Heracles, a move which was both unexpected but necessary.
It was a football afternoon with one way traffic in the direction of Remko Pasver’s Almelo goal. That Ajax – who, for one time only, wore jerseys with Fond Gehandicaptensport instead of AEGON – only scored once in the first half hour was a miracle, considering the many opportunities they had. Janssen’s opening goal was preceded by at least a handful of good Ajax opportunities. But, especially in the first half, and Ajax player either faltered in finishing, or the last pass just wasn’t good enough.
The latter was the case in the beginning, when Siem de Jong played the ball back, instead of to his free left back Daley Blind, who had come up with him. A shot past Christian Eriksen illustrated how precision was sometimes missing in the finish. Cup finalist Heracles has an excellent keeper in Pasveer was clear, as the former Jong Oranje keeper proved with a catlike save on a Toby Alderweireld header.
Janssen’s goal (on preparation work from Ebecilio and Jan Vertonghen) gave the Amsterdam team a deserved lead after 25 minutes. Heracles had a harder time getting through to Kenneth Vermeer. The Ajax goalie proved to be focussed on the few attempts on goal. Özbiliz had a less fortunate afternoon. The forward had to leave after half an hour with a shin injury. Winger Jody Lukoki replaced him.
“In the first half, we missed the final push. We could have scored more goals this afternoon”, said Frank de Boer, looking back. “But nonetheless, beforehand I would have signed up for 6-0, no problem.”
After the break, Ajax was quite a bit more successful in converting. Just as in the away match against ADO Den Haag and at home against PSV, Ajax struck mercilessly within the hour. Heracles, who clearly were mentally already in the cup final, were treated to two goals from their Amsterdam based opponents. Three minutes after the break, it was Ebecilio who struck gold after an attempt from De Jong had been turned away by Pasveer: 2-0. Five minutes later, the keeper was left without a chance on an Eriksen shot which had changed direction: 3-0.
Ten minutes later in this one-sided game, Vurnon Anita took the stage. The ‘little big man’ in De Boer’s team rounded off a combination with De Jong flawlessly. The controlling midfielder scored Ajax’s fourth goal of the afternoon.
Is it a coincidence that Ajax, with Anita in the controlling role, has won eight matches in a row? The multifunctional player obviously can’t do much without his team mates, but the role of this stability factor is noteworthy. Anita stood out against Almelo until his substitution (for Eyong Enoh). And that wasn’t the first time this season. Who knows, perhaps De Boer’s choice for Anita as the defending midfielder will be the stroke of genius that leads to the championship.
“This was one of our better matches. In terms of the result, it was one of our best”, said De Boer. “I’ve seen Ajax the way I like to see it. We put pressure on our opponent for ninety minutes. We created many opportunities with our position play. That’s what the crowd comes to see, and what we strive for.”
Siem de Jong’s 5-0 goal raised the home match to the status of walk over. De Jong received Eriksen’s pass in full stride with his left foot, and rounded off immediately with his right. De Boer: “I’ve seen determination and passion; that was difficult for Heracles. They made mistakes due to our aggression. But we’re not there yet. This, this quality and passion, is what we need to show every time. Our biggest pitfall is when we think that this just happens on its own.”
Substitute Sigthórsson took credit for the two last moments of cheering. First, the Icelander received a standing ovation from part of the Ajax crowd when he made his entry in the 78th minute. In the last minutes, the centre forward simply ticked a goal in after a broad ball from Janssen. Sigthórsson’s return and goal were the cherry on a very sweet Ajax cake on Sunday afternoon.