After defeating AZ (1-0) Ajax have two more finals to play in the race for the playoffs. Nourdin Boukhari scored the only goal of the match after 30 minutes. With the three points and their competitors for fourth and fifth place all dropping points, the Ajax's chances of appearing in the postseason improved.
Ajax against AZ is Amsterdam against Alkmaar; the match between coaches Danny Blind and Louis van Gaal. Ajax - AZ (and vice versa) has also become a matrch between Ajax players and former Ajax players. With Henk Timmer, Tim de Cler, Denny Landzaat, Shota Arveladze, (substitute) Pius Ikedia and coach Louis van Gaal, a big part of the AZ team had a past in Amsterdam. For Kenneth Perez (he joins Ajax next season) and former AZ player Olaf Lindenbergh, Ajax - AZ was special too.
AZ coach Van Gaal was welcomed in the ArenA very warmly. Particularly the supporters in section 410 showed their respect for the coach who led Ajax to great heights in the mid-nineties. All trophies won under Louis van Gaal were printed on a giant banner that was revealed shortly before kickoff. ,,I am very happy with such a welcome'', said Van Gaal. ,,Not many opponents are cheered in the ArenA. This is a sign of appreciation.''
For Ajax, Robbert Schilder began the match as left back and John Heitinga, back after a kidney bruise, played in the heart of Ajax's defence. Hedwiges Maduro returned to his favorite spopt as central midfielder, causing Lindenbergh to begin on the bench.
Since Heitinga bruised his kidney in the match against Internazionale on 22 February, the defender could do nothing but watch from the sidelines. Ajax coach Danny Blind rightfully praised his defender's performance. Without as much as a test match in Ajax 2, Heitinga perfomed at full power for ninety minutes.
Nicolae Mitea was given an easier return. The Romanian winger had been out with a knee injury since 31 July 2005 (Ajax - Boca Juniors, Amsterdam Tournament) and was given two minutes at the end of the match.
After 30 minutes, Nourdin Boukhari scored. Hatem Trabelsi passed to Mauro Rosales, who found Boukhari. face to face with goalkeeper Henk Timmer he remained calm: 1-0.
Ajax were the better team for most of the first half, but AZ had the bigger chances. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg made sure they were not converted into goals for the visitors. Joris Mathijsen, Arveladze and future Ajax player Kenneth Perez al missed the necessary precision. On behalf of Ajax, Tomás Galásek opened the match with a flying shot that went just wide.
,,We had chances to decide the match early'', said Blind. In the second half AZ came on more strongly, but the side lacked some luck in their finishing. Arveladze crossed to Perez and the Dane hit the post, after which the ball ended up in Stekelenburg's gloves. The goalkeeper, voted Ajax player of the match, saw sub Haris Medunjanin hitting the crossbar, minutes after Ryan Babel, who replaced Markus Rosenberg in the second half, had hit the bar on the other side.
,,If we ever could have won here, it was today'', said Van Gaal. ,,AZ dictated the match after halftime and created chances but did not finish them. Ajax also had a great goalkeeper today.''
Maduro, Heitinga, Boukhari and Huntelaar came closest to to scoring another goal for Ajax. Boukhari and Huntelaar got in each other's way when Ajax had their biggest chance of the half.
Stekelenburg kept a clean sheet and Ajax gained three valuable points in the race for the playoffs. Blind: ,,I am happy with the three poinst at this stage of the season. We have two more finals to play.'' In the upcoming week, Ajax have to secure their participation in the competition for a place in the preliminary round of the Champions League. The side receive Vitesse on Wednesday and play at RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.