Ajax defeat AZ in Johan Cruijff Schaal comeback
After a dull first-half, an enticing second-half and some action-packed minutes of extra time, Frank de Boer and his Ajax side managed to seize another trophy in their three year long haul. This time, the 18th Johan Cruyff Schaal was added to the trophy cabinet in the ArenA.
On this hot and humid summer night at the end of July, last year’s Dutch Cup winners and local rivals AZ Alkmaar went head-to-head with the three-starred ensemble. In the run-up to the game, manager Gertjan Verbeek was justifiably quick to insist his side were underdogs for this tie, pointing towards the sheer difference in quality between his side and that of De Boer’s as a differentiating point of this match. But once again, Dutch football proved it’s full of surprises on the day.Ajax began in their trusted 4-3-3 formation, with Vermeer in between the sticks, Toby Alderweireld and Niklas Moisander in the centre of defence, Ricardo van Rhijn on the right and Daley Blind as a left wing-back. In front of the back four started the versatile Danish penchant Lasse Schöne, with Christian Eriksen and Siem de Jong making up the remainder of the midfield. The front line was formed by Viktor Fischer, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and new boy Bojan, who joined the Eredivisie champions on loan from Barcelona a few weeks ago.
AZ’s line-up looked quite different from that of last year, having lost key players Adam Maher (to PSV) and Jozy Altidore (to Sunderland) and Verbeek starting three new faces. Esteban was once again in goal, with a pairing of new arrivals Jeffrey Gouweleeuw and Jan Wuytens protecting him from Icelandic dangerman. On the right of defence stared Mattias Johansson, whilst captain Nick Viergever was on the left. In midfield, Markus Henriksen, Viktor Elm and former NAC starlet Nemanja Gudelj combined, with Roy Beerens, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Aron Jóhannsson playing up front.
The match started out as expected, with Ajax dominating possession and zipping the ball around the park, probing for a gap in AZ’s defensive line. It didn’t prove easy to find this needed hole, though, mainly because of the final pass lacking either distance or power when nearing the box. Despite Ajax putting a fair few balls into the box for Sigthorsson and De Jong to run onto, AZ showed their defensive resilience to go in at half-time without conceding.
In the second period, things started to change a bit as Ajax’s first-half energy was drained. AZ, having a squad that’s set-up perfectly for counter-attacking play, profited from the Amsterdam side being positioned far too high up the pitch with some quality breaks. Eventually, Blind lost out to Gouweleeuw in a battle for the ball outside the AZ box and the long pass forward ended up with Jóhannsson. The striker, not losing his cool, then found fellow Iceland international Gudmundsson, who calmly slotted it home for his side.
Shortly afterwards, another quick break led to a shot on Vermeer’s goal, which was stopped by Moisander, but the danger wasn’t cleared properly. The ball eventually ended up at Jóhansson’s feet, with a tap-in being the only thing left between the striker and a 2-0 lead. Needless to say, it went in.Then, with just about 69 minutes gone, Ajax were offered a helping hand by an unexpected partner. As Eriksen placed a free kick on goal, it was AZ defender Gouweleeuw who jumped up and headed the ball into his own net past Esteban. With that goal, Ajax gained confidence and began flowing forward again.
In the 75th minute, the ball was driven out to Alderweireld, who had a characteristic blast at goal. Despite the ball heading straight for Esteban’s gloves, the goalkeeper could only parry it away and the ball fell straight to Sigthorsson, and the striker put it into the back of the net to complete the comeback.
As energy quickly faded away in the fuzzy Amsterdam night, neither side found itself capable of any more scoring, despite chances appearing at both ends, and the game went into extra time. It was eventually “Captain Clutch” De Jong who decided the action-packed game with a deft header at the back post from an Eriksen cross in the 104th minute, securing De Boer’s very first Johan Cruijff Schaal as a manager.
If anything, this match showed the potential of the Ajax line-up and their weaknesses, as well as the enigmatic counter-attacking ability Verbeek has instilled within his AZ team. Overall, it was a good test for both sides when they kick off the Eredivisie next weekend, as Ajax meet Roda JC at home on Friday and AZ face a tough away game in Heerenveen next Saturday.
Ajax: Vermeer; Van Rhijn (90’ Veltman), Alderweireld, Moisander, Blind (106‘ Boilesen); Schöne, De Jong, Eriksen; Bojan (64’ Andersen), Sigthorsson, Fischer.
AZ: Esteban; M. Johansson, Gouweleeuw, Wuytens, Viergever; Henriksen, Gudelj, Elm(81’ Overtoom); Beerens (84’ Lewis), A. Jóhansson, Gudmundsson(98’ Martens).
Goals: 51’ Gudmundsson (AZ), 67’ A. Jóhannsson (AZ), 69’ Eriksen (Ajax), 75’ Sigthorsson (Ajax), 103’ De Jong (Ajax)