Leonardo's goal was enough to give Ajax a spectacular away win at HSV. The win brought Ajax very close to the third round of the UEFA Cup. ,,We took a big step tonight”, Marco van Basten said.
HSV were the odds-on favourites to win this European match. But it was Ajax who came away victorious. The team, with six points from three matches, are almost through to the next round of the UEFA Cup. If Ajax win one point against Slavia Prague at home in three weeks, they will go on to the next round. ,,This gives us a lot of confidence”, Van Basten said. ,,We have a young team that needs to gain experience. So it is important that we stay in the European competition.”
The coach began with the same eleven that started against AZ on Sunday. HSV were dangerous for the first time after eight minutes. Paolo Guerrero went by Oleguer on the right, but his cross never made it to his teammates. In the 19th minute Kenneth Vermeer saved when Ivica Olic first tricked Eyong Enoh and then Oleguer. Just before that, Ajax came close. Urby Emanuelson headed it to Luis Suarez, who missed and was also just offside. ,,The first half could have gone both ways”, Van Basten said. ,,Although we did not always succeed in playing our own game. That was not only our fault, but also due to the quality of the pitch.”
Van Basten made no substitutions at halftime and saw that his team began the second half well. Miralem Sulejmani struck but saw his shot deflected. After that, HSV took the initiative. After an hour, Guerrero hit the crossbar when Enoh had given him the ball. Enoh (who had received a yellow card in the first half) and Sulejmani were taken off shortly after, for Gabri and Leonardo.
Ajax had more and more grip on the match and took, right after Evander Sno had been brought on for Kennedy, the lead through Leonardo. The Brazilian intercepted a pass and fired on goal while running, only to see the ball bounce back after hitting both posts. He remaiend very calm, dribbled around the oncoming opponents and put the ball in the back of the net. ,,I thought it would go in right away", the match winner said. ,,But luckily I was in time for the rebound." Right after that moment, Ajax could have doubled their lead, but Leonardo found Suarez too late in a counter attack. Immediately after that, goalkeeper Rost saved on a strike from distance by Emanuelson. It did not matter in the end, because Ajax held on to their lead and took three important points back to Amsterdam. ,,In the second half we took more and more command of the game. It was a deserved win, and we are very happy with it", Van Basten said.
HSV boss Martin Jol agreed. ,,In the first half we played reasonably well, but after halftime we could not bring it any more, especially on the offensive end", the Dutch coach said. ,,Then it becomes difficult against a talented team with hungry players such as Leonardo and Luis Suarez."
Aston Villa 2-6
Slavia Prague 2-1