Finally Ajax were able to break the spell. In the last five years Ajax had not left Arnhem with a single point. Until Sunday August 25 2002. Ajax beat Vitesse 2-1 after a miserable first half. The second half was somewhat better for the Amsterdam side, also because Vitesse was tired. A wonderful free kick by Cristian Chivu sealed the victory.
Ajax left for Arnhem without Victor Sikora. Much had been made of the left wingers return to the stadium where he had matured as a player. It was expected that both Vitesses fans and players would given him a tough time. To withstand all that, he had to be top fit. He was not. Coach Ronald Koeman said Sikora had been ill earlier in the week and left him out of the squad.
Ronald Koeman had changed Ajaxs playing system. Instead of the usual 4-3-3 system, Ajax now played 4-42, a system Koeman likes to use in difficult matches. And because Ajax had not been able to win a point at Vitesse in the last five years this match was seen as difficult, despite the fact that a number of experienced players had left Vitesse in the summer.
The change in style had not the desired effect. ,,We did not execute well, Koeman said. ,,But it is always easy to say in hindsight that something should have been changed.
Vitesse started the match very well. The home side played aggressively and put the Ajax defenders under pressure. In the 16th minute Amoah escaped John OBrien. The forward struck the ball past goalkeeper Stekelenburg and put the opening goal on the scoreboard, 1-0.
Occasionally Ajax was able to create some danger but it was Vitesse that had the better chance of scoring again. Amoah took the ball away from Pasanen and fed Claessens. The Belgian player turned away from Chivu, but his shot just went wide of the Ajax goal, leaving the halftime score 1-0.
In the second half Ajax put more pressure on Vitesse. That resulted in two corner kicks in a row in the 50th minute. Goalkeeper Jevric dropped the second one. Zlatan struck, but his shot was blocked. The ball came to Pasanen who managed to put in the equaliser: 1-1.
Koeman brought on Wamberto for Galasek and Van Halst for Mido. Yet it was Vitesse again that had the best chance to take the lead when Claessens hit the outside of the goal post. In the 77th minute Cristian Chivu did something very unexpected. He aimed a free kick from more than 30 metres out directly on goal. With a beautiful curve the ball hit the top corner, 1-2.
Minutes later Van der Vaart hit the post but Vitesse also had another chance to score when Van Halst lost the ball and Janssen almost went through to the Ajax goal. It was Chivu who reacted just in time and made sure that Ajax held on to the 2-1 lead.