Miralem Sulejmani finally broke the spell for ‘his’ Ajax. The attacker’s opening goal put the home team on a winning course against FC Groningen. Jan Vertonghen finally secured the win, after which the results for FC Twente added a nice bonus to the sunny afternoon.
Manager Frank de Boer had already ‘predicted’ on Friday that Nicolai Boilesen would start against FC Groningen. On the day of the match the manager had another surprise up his sleeve. Apart from the Danish left back, Aras Özbiliz was also rewarded for all his hard work and his excellent subbing. The winger started on the right side, allowing Miralem Sulejmani to attack from the left. The match against the team from Groningen saw the return of Jan Vertonghen (the team captain had been suspended) and Gregory van der Wiel, who was fit again, to the Ajax squad. Vurnon Anita underlined his versatility with his central role as controller on the midfield. Just like last week against Heracles Almelo, André Ooijer replaced the injured Toby Alderweireld at the heart of the Ajax defence.
The Ajax players treated the crowd to a tame first half against former Ajax Academy manager Pieter Huistra’s squad. Ajax did try, but was often too sloppy when attempting to score. Groningen was timid and the impression they gave was far from bold. Christian Eriksen was one of the few players to bring some colour to the first half. The young Dane, one of the many Ajax players with a training history at Ajax’ sports complex the Academy, posed a threat and created opportunities for others. Operating from the left on the midfield, Eriksen saw his big chance (a shot on goal) go just wide of the goal. Nine minutes later the youngster (age wise he’s still an Under 19, action wise he’s a top player in the making) kicked the ball very cleverly in between two Groningen players in the direction of Brian van Loo’s goal. Özbiliz came sliding in, but was a shoe size short of hitting the ball. Striker Mounir El Hamdaoui had the chance to score the opening goal just before half time. The Maroccan Ajax player shot from the turn, but Van de Loo deflected the shot with his feet.
,,We dominated the first half’’, De Boer reflected during the press conference. ,,I saw a number of fantastic attacks, but unfortunately we made the wrong choices. We didn’t follow through. We then became sloppy and FC Groningen took control. ’’
In the first ten minutes after half time fellow keeper Kenneth Vermeer had to show what he was made of. Within four minutes he saved attempts on goal from Leandro Bacuna, Thomas Enevoldsen (shots) and Jonas Ivens (header from a corner). During a rare moment when the athletic goalie didn’t have an adequate response, Anita was ready to deflect an attack by Groningen right in front of the goal. Of course Ajax kept trying to build up the attack, but unsuccessfully. The opportunity offered by Eriksen to Gregory van der Wiel who had come up with him, was unfortunately wasted on the right back. And so Ajax and Groningen kept a fearful balance for the first seventy minutes.
,,Vermeer pulled us through certain phases brilliantly’’, De Boer continued. ,,We were having problems at that stage, partly because we lost possession of the ball too quickly and the lines became too big as a result.’’
Van der Wiel was of great value shortly afterwards. The defender launched Sulejmani, who had veered off to the right, with a clever through pass. The Serb outwitted Van Loo, who had come too far out of his goal, with a lob: 1-0. Ajax seemed to have relieved itself from an unnecessary load. Three minutes later Vertonghen as much as secured the victory. The Belgian team captain scored from a corner by Eriksen, via the post. The 2-0 score was received with loud cheers and the developments in Enschede pleased the ArenA. The news on FC Twente trailing 0-1 was applauded by all Ajax fans.
Eyong Enoh replaced Van der Wiel, Lorenzo Ebecilio took over from Özbiliz and De Zeeuw substituted for El Hamdaoui and then Ajax brought the encounter to a successful close. The first fearful seventy minutes were quickly forgotten. The result, a 2-0 win, made up for everything and gave Ajax a well deserved victory. The final score for FC Twente – Roda JC brought great joy and satisfaction to the Ajax players and supporters on the pitch and in the stands. The final one all draw in Enschede means Ajax gains two points on the frontrunner. They are now three points behind FC Twente.
,,Our norm is second place and that is in our hands now’’, De Boer concluded. ,,We have four more finals to play and we must win all four.’’
Watch Ajax TV for a full summary of Ajax – FC Groningen and the interviews with several Ajax players after the match
Text: Ajax.nl/ Ronald Jonges
Photographs: Ajax.nl/ Gerard van Hees