It seems like a very long time ago that the 29th edition of Ajax – Vitesse was going to end in the first 0-0 tie in Eredivisie history between the two teams. After an evening during which Ajax and Vitesse were neck-to neck, the Arnhem team eked out a last minute victory on the ArenA grass. Valeri Qazaishvili was Ajax’s foil in the closing phase: 0-1.
The Ajax – Vitesse top duel, with the leading position in the Eredivisie at stake, had much in common with a game of chess. Both teams waited for opportunities, but were regularly driven back to their own side of the field by their opponents. It was thus the mission of both teams to operate cautiously from the first whistle blown by Bas Nijhuis.
Despite this careful approach, there were several opportunities. One of the home team’s few opportunities was for Viktor Fischer, who failed to make good twice. On two separate passes from the diligent Thulani Serero, the Danish Ajax player shot over once, and then – with a spectacular volley – just wide. Centre forward Kolbeinn Sigthórsson (over) and then getting in the way of Daley Blind and Serero (resulting in a half-baked wide shot) were the principal Ajax opportunities before the break.
On the other side, Vitesse had the chance of a lifetime for centre forward Mike Havenaar. His attempt was saved at the last minute by Christian Poulsen at the line. Vitesse sensation Lucas Piázon also made his presence felt. The loaned out Chelsea player had already proven that he can play earlier this season. The light-footed Brazilian had the chance to open the score after twelve minutes. Piázon seemed to have free passage to Jasper Cillessen, but Joël Veltman prevented the worst with an outstandingly timed and executed tackle on the ball. The fact that both teams were scoreless as they retreated to the locker rooms at halftime was a painfully obvious one. Ajax and Vitesse had had opportunities, but had leaned on their own organization too much. Ajax – Vitesse wasn’t worthy of a winner on Saturday.
Last season, Ajax was almost powerless against a Vitesse that included top shooter Wilfried Bony. The Arnhem team posted an easy 0-2 win on November 3, 2012, thanks to two goals scored by the Ivory Coast native. Ajax’s last defeat in an Eredivisie game at home thus dated back to one year. The team’s undefeated status in home games is now wiped out.
This top duel against Vitesse was the centre piece of a busy football week. On Tuesday, they defeated ASWH in the KNVB Cup tournament, 4-1. The home game against Vitesse was the main course for the weekend, and on Wednesday, Ajax will host Celtic. The stakes are high against the Scots: this game will determine whether or not Ajax will continue playing in Europe after the winter break in the Champions League 2013-2014. The Ajax players are thus steadily progressing to a harder, more intense and more international level of football within eight days. In this dress rehearsal for the Champions League game against Celtic, Christian Poulsen resumed his familiar role as midfield controller. With wing forwards Fischer (on the right) and Lucas Andersen (left), there was quite a bit of Danish contribution in this top Eredivisie match.
The football spectacle resumed after the break. Once again Ajax and Vitesse – the Gelderland club has recently switched owners – kept each other in check. Renato Ibarra tested Cillessen repeatedly, but the Ajax goalie had the last word. A rare mistake resulting in Ibarra releasing a shot didn’t do any damage as it was neutralized by an alert Veltman, who was Ajax’s Player of the Match. Shots by Blind (over) and Siem de Jong (wide) remained without result. On a free kick from Fischer, Guran Kashia sent a header just wide of his own goal. The Dane’s free kicks were a weapon regardless; a new attempt was saved by Piet Velthuizen with some difficulty. On the opposite side, Vitesse right back Kelvin Leerdam saw his shot go wide as well.
With newcomers Nicolai Boilesen (who, after being ill with the flu for four days, came in for Poulsen), Davy Klaasen (for Lucas Andersen) and Lasse Schöne (Fischer), Ajax remained on the hunt for a goal. The Amsterdam team didn’t find it. In a phase during which De Jong saw his header turned away by Velthuizen and Schöne shot onto the post, Valeri Qazaishvili finished off a counter successfully. The substitute found the goal with a low shot in the ninetieth minute: 0-1. The Ajax players thus left the field with a big hang-over. The club which had defeated the Amsterdam natives one year ago repeated the feat.
“We can be mad at ourselves for not being effective enough with the opportunities that came from transition”, explained Frank de Boer, hitting the nail painfully on the head. “It’s a shame that you don’t score yourself in the last minute, and that Vitesse punishes you for a mistake. This is downer, a mental blow. We’ll have to process this. We fought until the last second and could have come out of this evening as the winner.”