Ajax fought to a tough tie against Excelsior (2-2) on Sunday. Rotterdam’s third professional football club was in the lead, 2-0, at halftime. Mounir El Hamdaoui and Jan Vertonghen tied the match after the break at Woudestein Stadium.
Five days after the Champions League match against AJ Auxerre (2-1), André Ooijer once again got the nod over Toby Alderweireld for this competition match against Excelsior. Siem de Jong and Vurnon Anita also returned to the squad. De Jong had been out for several weeks due to a hamstring injury, and Anita had last seen action almost a month ago, against AC Milan, during which he suffered a calf injury.
Excelsior played without Wouter Gudde and Norichio Nieveld. Gudde has a knee injury, and Nieveld was sitting out a suspension. Interestingly, Excelsior coach Alex Pastoor also watched the game from the stands. The Amsterdam native received a one match suspension after the ADO Den Haag game. From the small, cozy stand, Excelsior’s coach watched as his assistants, John Lammers and Peter den Otter, led the team to a 2-2 tie.
Excelsior came close to going down within the first minute. Former Excelsior player and current Ajax forward Mounir El Hamdaoui shot onto the crossbar. De Jong also came close to scoring when Luis Suarez’s shot went past the goal. De Jong just missed getting to the ball. However, after close to thirty minutes of play, Ajax was on field with only ten men. Anita was sent off with a red card in the 27th minute. The left back fouled Fernandez, and referee Jan Wegereef resolutely sent him off. Anita’s return was thus short lived. Ajax’s ten players struggled against extremely offensive Excelsior during the last fifteen minutes of the first half. Exactly ten minutes after the red card, the Rotterdamers took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Daan Bovenberg. The defender put the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg after captain Ryan Koolwijk’s free kick. A few minutes later, the Rotterdam team’s second goal came. Kevin Wattamaleo’s shot went straight in: 2-0. Tim Vincken served the midfielder perfectly after Urby Emanuelson lost possession.
Ajax’s task was clear – to score a goal. This didn’t take very long to happen. A few seconds into the second half, El Hamdaoui shot beautifully past Cees Pauwe, bringing Ajax back into the game. Soon after the goal, Ajax had a stroke of back luck. Maarten Stekelenburg left the field with an injured knee disk. Ajax’s and the Dutch national team’s number one received a hard hit from Excelsior player Fernandez, who landed on his knee. Jeroen Verhoeven came in for Stekelenburg, making his Eredivisie debut.
Ajax kept hunting for its second goal to avoid defeat. Two minutes before the end of regular time, Ajax finally scored the tying goal. From Miralem Sulejmani’s well-played corner kick, Jan Vertonghen’s header made it past opposing goalie Pauwe. In the six minutes extra time, Verhoeven was kept sharp by several dangerous Excelsior attacks. The keeper made one great save after another. Scorer Vertonghen prevented a goal against after Verhoeven was outplayed by Fernandez. Excelsior assistant coach John Lammers complimented Verhoeven afterwards. “We had at least three good chances to win the match during extra time. My compliments to Verhoeven for making three great saves.”
Martin Jol was glad that Ajax came back during the second half. “Beforehand, you hope to book a good result against Excelsior, and it looked like we were on our way to doing that with Siem de Jong’s opportunities, and Mounir El Hamdaoui’s shot against the crossbar. But we got into a position that we didn’t want to be in. I’m glad that we came back for the second half.”