Injury-ravaged Ajax have won the first home match after the winter break. NEC was beaten by the smallest margin: 1-0. But despite the unconvincing performance, faces were smiling in Amsterdam. Two talented young players, Daniel de Ridder and Tom de Mul, made their first appearance before the home crowd and left a good impression.
Three names were added to the already long injury list. Zlatan Ibrahimovic underwent a successful operation on his injured groin on Thursday and Tom Soetaers and Zdenek Grygera both sustained injuries in the away match against Roda JC on Wednesday. To make things worse, Rafael van der Vaart was battling a stomach virus that also gave him a fever. ,,But he reported anyway this morning, said coach Ronald Koeman. ,,Normally, Rafael would not have played. He wasn't fit, but he took one for the team. He did not have the physical strength to play in midfield today, so we played him as a striker. There he could wait for his moments.'' Wesley Sonck took over Van der Vaart's role in midfield. ,,Sonck lost the ball a bit too much today and he played a mediocre first half. But he scored and that was very important. And we have also seen that this style of playing can work'', Koeman said after the match.
Wesley Sonck went on to be the matchwinner in the 61st minute. Julien Escudé sent a beautifull diagonal pass to left winger Victor Sikora, who crossed to Van der Vaart. The captain touched it through to Sonck, after which the Belgian freed himself nicely and fired past goalkeeper Dennis Gentenaar, 1-0.
After Sonck's goal the supporters went as wild as when they heard that local boy Daniel de Ridder would start as Ajax's right winger. The 19-year old impressed the onlookers with his fine moves. Ronald Koeman. ,,He started well and was quick in the early stages and towards the end of the match. Because of all the injuries it was possible to play those young lads. They are talented, but we had to bring them sooner than you would normally do. It was good that the fans voted De Ridder man of the match.
The other newcomer was Tom de Mul. De Ridder had made his debut last Wednesday, De Mul made his first appearance for Ajax 1 in the home match against NEC. The 17-year old Belgian left a good impression and showed good moves as the team's right winger. De Ridder had moved to the left and later to the middle. Koeman had also added 17-year old Ryan Babel to the squad. The young striker playes for Ajax 2 since the winter break and this was the first time he was on the bench with the first team. The team was full of talented youngsters and next to the three points against NEC, Ajax also gained something valuable for the future.