Ajax has lost its first Champions League 2010-2011 group match. In Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the hosts won 2-0. Real Madrid was simply too strong for Ajax.
The match between the nine time and four time European champion (Real Madrid and Ajax, respectively) was a tough one for Ajax. Was the setting a bit overwhelming for Ajax, in their first group G Champions League duel? The group of top world footballers playing with Real is, put mildly, quite daunting. Ajax clearly had no plans to be intimidated, and demonstrated it by putting on offensive pressure to reach Iker Casillas. Ajax remained attacking under pressure, but Casillas kept his cool. Before the break, Miralem Sulejmani was the only Ajax player to test the keeper. The Serbian Ajax player shot over. Ajax didn’t avoid physical confrontations, either. One such incident earned Demy de Zeeuw a yellow card early in the match.
Sulejmani and André Ooijer stood in for the suspended Luis Suarez and Jan Vertonghen in the almost sold out Bernabéu stadium. The latter two watched the game from the stands. Urby Emanuelson played from left mid. Just like attacking midfielder Siem de Jong, he regularly found a connection with the forwards ‘Micky’ and Mounir El Hamdaoui. De Zeeuw wore the captain’s band in the Spanish capital. Ooijer played a mentor’s role on defence. In the Spanish cauldron, the Amsterdam native’s experience was invaluable.
Before the first fifteen minutes were played, the tone was set by Sami Khedira (shot), Mesut Özil (save by Stekelenburg) and striker Gonzalo Higuain (shot into side net). Madrid kept the pressure on for the rest of the match. The fact that ‘only’ an own goal by Vurnon Anita marked the scoreboard at the end of the first half, was actually fortunate for Ajax, considering the numerous scoring opportunities their hosts enjoyed. Higuain struck gold after a half hour. A corner by Xabi Alonso from the left ricocheted from the advancing Argentine and Anita past Maarten Stekelenburg. In the next phase, Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo were dangerous too. A combination of sloppiness in the close, and Stekelenburg’s outstanding keeper’s work kept any more goals at bay. A small collision between Di Maria and ‘Steek’ didn’t earn the home team a penalty.
Among the tens of thousands of spectators were Ajax’s guests of honour, Gerrie Mühren and Dani. Both former first team players saw that Ajax needed to control the damage. Cristiano Ronaldo – Dani’s fellow countryman, and the most expensive player ever – and Özil created chances, but didn’t score. This kept the game exciting. In the last half hour, Teemo Tainio replaced captain De Zeeuw. De captain’s band was passed to Ooijer. But Martin Jol’s team still remained behind their hosts. The supporters in the visitors stand definitely did their part to help. The 1.400 fans who had travelled continued their enthusiastic, passionate cheering for their team.
It was Higuain who finally robbed Ajax of their last scraps of hope. On a pass from Özil, the
striker simply ticked it in from close by. The 2-0 goal definitively killed all hope for a tying goal. Five minutes after the second goal against, Urby Emanuelson came close to scoring for Ajax. The lefty lifted the ball onto the crossbar. Afterwards, Casillas distinguished himself
once again on a hard shot from Sulejmani. But it was Ronaldo who left Madrid’s greatest opportunity unconverted. In front of an empty goal, the Portuguese player stepped over the ball.
In one of the most impressive football temples in the world, Ajax honourably conceded defeat to a team that was clearly superior. And they can hold their head high. After this first pool match, there will be opportunities for recovery. In the other Champions League pool G match, AC Milan defeated AJ Auxerre. The Italians had former Ajax player Zlatan Ibramovic to thank for their 2-0 win. Ajax will host the ‘Milanisti’ for the second pool match on September 28.