If Ajax played their best Champions League match against Valencia last Tuesday, then the match against Excelsior on Sunday meant the worst domestic league match of the season. Fortunately Ajax did not lose any points. The team from Amsterdam won behind two goals by Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 2-1. Excelsior's coach Adrie Koster said it best after the match: ,,If there ever was a moment to beat Ajax, it was today.''
Ronald Koeman rested two players this afternoon. Earlier, the coach had said that he did not like to rest too many players before a Champions League match, because the Dutch league is important. Only the second place allows a team to play in the preliminary round of the Champions League. But Galásek and Chivu were kept on the bench this time.
They must have been very uneasy on the sideline. Ajax started the match carelessly and at half power.
Excelsior took an early lead through a fourth-minute goal by Cecilio Lopes. It was Excelsior's first goal in Amsterdam in twenty years. Ajax seemed unimpressed but kept playing lackadaisically, allowing the guests had more opportunities to score. ,,We really played poorly in the beginning, Koeman said. ,,I was very unhappy with our performance in the first half. Maybe we were surprised that Excelsior played one on one in defence, but it shouldn't have happened.
Ajax had some little chances, but most forwards were not really sharp either. ,,Apparently it is difficult to play after a Champions League match, Koeman thought.
Still, after 25 minutes Ajax managed to equalise. Van der Vaart found Zlatan Ibrahimovic who scored his eleventh league goal of the season: 1-1. But Ajax did not seem to receive a boost by the Swede's goal. In the remainder of the first half the quality of the home side's football remained low.
Cristian Chivu was brought on after halftime for Andre Bergdølmo. ,,I was not pleased with Bergdølmo, Koeman explained. ,,I expect an older player to organise things on the pitch. With his experience he should know what it means to play a league match in between two European matches. I expected more from him and therefore I was disappointed. For Chivu coming on in the second half meant that he played his 100th league match for Ajax.
Ajax came out of the dressing room determined. It almost lead to a quick goal, but Zlatan's curl ended up on the crossbar. But the fighting spirit soon evaded the home players again.
Fortunately, Ajax have Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This afternoon he needed only a few good moments to decide the match. Nine minutes before the end, the striker received the ball, shook off a couple of opponents and released a fine strike. It was his twelfth goal of the season and an important one for Ajax. Feyenoord had managed to beat NEC and would have come very close if Ajax lost points. ,,We won because we have a lot of quality up front, Koeman analysed. ,,I understand that players get tired, but not in the first half hour.
Whether Ronald Koeman goes into the crucial Champions League against with AS Roma with a lot of confidence after Ajax's performance on the afternoon, remains to be seen. It is also unsure whether he will be able to field Hatem Trabelsi on Wednesday. The Tunisian defender left the match with an injury after 25 minutes and his status is uncertain.