Ajax qualified for a spot in the cup finals on Thursday evening. Away at Alkmaar, Ajax defeated current cup holder AZ, 0-1. Lasse Schöne scored the winning goal early in the second half. Kenneth Vermeer, who stopped a penalty and made several brilliant saves, was the evening’s hero.
Ajax and AZ both ended the evening with ten men on the field after red cards were handed out to Veltman and Johansson. The victory against AZ gave Frank de Boer his one hundredth win as Ajax’s coach. On Sunday, April 20, he could win the cup for the first time as a coach if the team defeats PEC Zwolle.
When the match ended, Daley Blind was the first to run up to congratulate Kenneth Vermeer. With several great saves, the keeper had been instrumental in Ajax’s win. Right in front of the visitors’ stands, he was celebrated as the hero of the evening. Imagine: a stopped penalty shot and several outstanding saves ensured that Schöne’s goal was enough for a berth in the finals. Thanks to the victory against AZ, Ajax will meet PEC on Easter Sunday in De Kuip. Ajax, an 18 time cup winner, will make its 24th appearance in the cup finals.
Ajax and AZ met for the fourth time in row in the KNVB Cup. Just like last season, the North Holland clubs met in the semi-finals. One year ago, AZ defeated Ajax 0-3 in the ArenA, and Ajax missed out on making it to the finals. Now the situation was reversed. The confrontation in Alkmaar was this season’s fourth edition of an Ajax-AZ duel. After wins in the Johan Cruijff Trophy, and both competition matches, this cup semi-final closed the chapter for this season.
Kenneth Vermeer was in the goal for Ajax. Ajax’s reserve keeper – and cup tournament keeper - had recovered in time from his groin injury to appear at kick-off. Nicolai Boilesen, also recovered, also made his come-back in Alkmaar. Lesley de Sa was also allotted a starting spot by Frank de Boer.
After two disappointing competition performances against Cambuur (1-1) and NAC Breda (0-0), Ajax had a vested interest in regaining their mojo against AZ, especially when considering the upcoming match against FC Twente in the ArenA on Sunday. In contrast to AZ (who had played Eredivisie and UEFA Europa League matches last week), Ajax had had quite some time to prepare for the game in Alkmaar, due to the nuclear energy conference in The Hague. Thanks to the postponed away game against RKC, Ajax had ten days in order to prepare and be fresh and rested at kick-off.
In the first half hour, Lasse Schöne and Daley Blind had the best opportunities for Ajax. Schöne sent a nice hard shot over the goal, and Blind came face to face with keeper Esteban, but didn’t manage to send the ball past the goalie.
Where De Boer had expected a hunting AZ, at first this didn’t seem to be the case. Until the 33rd minute. After a Joël Veltman foul on Viktor Elm, referee Van Boekel put the ball on the spot. Veltman’s resulting yellow card would have serious consequences, as he had received a yellow card just one minute earlier as well. The defender was forced to leave the field with a red card. Fortunately for Ajax, Vermeer brilliantly saved Arnon Jóhansson’s penalty, thus preventing Ajax from going down. It was the seventh time in a row (not counting Ajax Reserves matches in the Jupiler League) that penalty-killer Vermeer turned away a penalty shot.
In order to compensate for Veltman’s absence, Stefano Denswil came out for Nicolai Boilesen after the break. Cold on the field, he was able to celebrate Lasse Schöne’s goal barely three minutes later. The Dane scored on a sensational free kick, putting Ajax in the lead. Schöne’s goal was an enormous boost for Ajax. Especially since AZ was forced to continue with only ten men after right back Mattias Johansson’s foul (second yellow card) on De Sa right before the free kick. It was thus ten against ten. De Boer: “Still, I had the feeling for a long time that AZ was playing with one more man. Actually, after that red card, we didn’t do much when we were ten on ten. Because that’s really the same as eleven on eleven. Fortunately tonight, we had a fantastic keeper in Kenneth Vermeer. He kept two almost one-hundred per cent goals out of the goal. In terms of the result, I’m very pleased, of course. I’m happy that we’ve earned a place in the finals, because that was our aim tonight. The execution could have been better in the second half.”
Schöne’s goal turned out to be the winning one. AZ came close to scoring twice in the 70th minute, but neither substitute Gudmundsson (excellent save by Vermeer) nor Reijnen (wide header) managed to score. In extra time, Gudelj made another attempt on a free kick, but superstar Vermeer was on top of it all, which resulted in Ajax making it to the cup finals for the first time since 2011.