Ajax will have to wait at least another week to celebrate its national championship. The highly charged and emotional match against Vitesse – with a bit of help from Feyenoord – would have been Ajax’s first shot at extending its championship, but remained without a winner: 1-1. “Vitesse was the total winner of the first half, and we were the total winner of the second half. So in that respect, this tie is well-deserved”, concluded Frank de Boer.
Would Vitesse – Ajax be the match with which the visitors would win their 33rd national title? It was the question that many were pondering beforehand. Ajax needed to win the match in order to seal the championship. The Amsterdam team were also dependent on Feyenoord’s results. In the Kuip, the Rotterdam team would have had to lose points against bottom-feeder RKC Waalwijk. The chance that this would happen to Feyenoord, who is fully in the running for second place in the race, was estimated to be almost nil.
All of the regular preparations were made for the eventuality that the championship would be won. The Ajax players who were not part of the selection or who were injured followed the players’ bus in a different bus. The 2013-2014 championship trophy was, of course, in the Gelredome. The away game at Vitesse was Ajax’s first opportunity at winning the club’s 33rd title in its history. If Ajax wins the title (next week in the sold-out Amsterdam ArenA against ADO Den Haag?), it will reinforce its national record in terms of number of championships. With four national titles in a row, Frank de Boer would also be writing history. No coach has even managed to win four national Eredivisie championships in a row with one club.
Defeating Vitesse has not been easy for Ajax, as recent history shows. Last season, things went terribly wrong for the Amsterdam team. After a comfortable 0-2 lead, the Arnhem team maneuvered the final score to 3-2. The painful loss fortunately didn’t keep Ajax from winning the 32nd title, which was won a few months afterwards. There was another warning statistic for Ajax. Until the match in the Gelredome, Ajax had been undefeated in eighteen Eredivisie games. But it was Vitesse who was the last team to defeat Ajax, on November 2, 2013. The game from the first half of the season ended up at 0-1 in the Amsterdam ArenA.
Vitesse – Ajax was as had been expected. Emotional. Just how tough the afternoon would be for Ajax could be seen in the opening minutes. The pressure from the Arnhem team resulted in a handful of opportunities. Davy Pröpper saw his early attempt land on the roof of the Ajax goal, via Davy Klaassen’s head. It was a warning shot. Before the break, Ajax had little ammunition. Fifteen minutes later, Ajax escaped when Guram Kashia sent his header onto the post. But it was just a matter of time. After Cillessen had stopped Zakaria Labyad’s hard free kick, Bertrand Traoré scored: 1-0. The Gelredome – fully sold out for a long time – almost erupted in happiness. The Ajax fans in the full visitors’ stands watched with long faces. For the loyal Ajax fans who had made the trip, it was only fuel to support their heroes even more fervently.
Labyad and Marko Vejinovic had the chance to increase Vitesse’s lead before the break. Labyad appeared in front of Cillessen, but saw Ajax’s goalie make a stoic save. Vejinovic succeeded in outplaying Cillessen later on, but the midfielder’s shot went over. But a 0-1 deficit was still within range for the current national champion.
Based on how one-sided the match was up until that point, it was fortunate that there was only one goal against. The damage seemed reparable. At 37 minutes, Lasse Schöne had what was possibly Ajax’s best opportunity. The Danish right winger shot over, from far away. The prospect of winning the title in Arnhem was, at that time, dimmed by an unfavourable halftime score in Rotterdam (1-0 Feyenoord lead on RKC). “Fortunately, we were only 1-0 down at halftime”, said De Boer afterwards. “Luckily we had a good keeper. Vitesse had players with lots of individual class. We weren’t playing compactly enough, let Vitesse play and made things difficult for ourselves. I was clear about that to the players at halftime. Did it have anything to do with the championship pressure? No. It’s just hard to get three points at Vitesse.”
If you don’t make the most of your opportunities, you leave yourself open for one or more goals against. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson underlined that ages-old football law shortly after the break. The Icelander – who started the match as a left winger – had room on the left and rounded off with a great low shot: 1-1. An Amsterdam tying goal had seemed so unfeasible shortly before…Looking at the match’s second half, the 1-1 was justified. In fact, Sigthórsson (wide shot and shot blocked by Piet Velthuizen) and left half Lerin Duarte (volley into Velthuizen’s hands) could have put Ajax in the lead. Vitesse – Ajax was an emotional and two-faced game.
After a second half during which emotions ran high, the match of two faces ended up undecided. “We did well in the second half”, decided De Boer. “In the end, I can live with this 1-1.”
Ajax will need to wait at least another week for its championship celebration. After Feyenoord’s 2-0 win at home against RKC, Ajax’s lead on the Rotterdam team is six points. Next week, Feyenoord needs to squander points at PSV in order for a celebration to take place.
On Sunday, Ajax plays against ADO Den Haag in its second to last home game of the season. Ajax had another chance to extend its title on that day. Daley Blind and Ricardo van Rhijn will have to watch that game from the sidelines. Both Ajax players received a yellow card in the Gelredome and are automatically suspended for one match.