Totally exhausted they lay on the ground, the men of AZ, the only ones without defeat in the Eredivisie since Sunday. They feasted on the accolades from the stands. Winning against Ajax is like doping in Alkmaar. Ajax hands over the first place in the Eredivisie on goal difference to PSV, which experienced crisis-like scenes before the meeting with Feyenoord on ‘super Sunday’ with the farewell of technical director John de Jong. PSV is now first, Ajax second, AZ third on one point, Feyenoord fourth on two points. For fans of excitement, the defeat of Ajax before the interruption of the competition due to international matches is a gift.
AZ in Alkmaar was synonymous with passion and total surrender, paired with beautiful examples of football, with the shameful violations of Mees de Wit, Dani de Wit and Tijjani Reijnders as a shadow over the game, but with referee Bas Nijhuis you can get away with that without a red card . Ajax player Edson Álvarez also knows that, also a wild brat now and then. Ajax coach Alfred Schreuder showed himself to be a good loser by not wanting to talk about it.
Ajax was the intended control, the lack of interest bordering on lack of interest until the break, the eternal return to goalkeeper Remko Pasveer, without creativity, ultimately leading to the second defeat in a row, after the loss in Liverpool in the Champions League. ‘AZ was fresher’, concluded Schreuder, although AZ would have played in Europe two days after Ajax, albeit against a much easier opponent: Vaduz for Liverpool.
AZ easily caught Ajax, always poked with good phases of pressure, and fought. It was great to see how Mees de Wit threw himself in front of the too slow Dusan Tadic in the compelling second half after a long sprint. Or as Dani de Wit, who ran more than fourteen kilometers, saved on the goal line after a shot by Mohammed Kudus; also beautiful. And Reijnders, a while later, parried a shot from Steven Bergwijn on the line and made the winning gesture; the clenched fist.
Eight Ajax players have been included in the selection for the matches against Poland and Belgium in the Nations League by national coach Louis van Gaal. A day before the start of the training sessions in Zeist, shortly before the World Cup in Qatar, they were past the yardstick, and it was not easy. Remko Pasveer was by far the best of the octet. He prevented further suffering with spectacular saves in the second half, after which AZ stopped in the final phase and was lucky to survive.
Worth mentioning was Daley Blind’s pass for the 0-1. So controlled, long and deep, all over the defense, all that was left for Kenneth Taylor to do was cross. He did that with skill and overview, after which Mohammed Kudus ran the ball into the goal.
But yes, Ajax didn’t do much until the break. After that 0-1, the thought was probably that it would run smoothly. AZ missed, among others, Jesper Karlsson and Vangelis Pavlidis, and saw Bruno Martins Indi retire with an injury, but AZ fought, with fighters such as Sam Beukema and Jens Odgaard. Jordy Clasie, who has been in excellent shape as a controller for weeks, has fallen out of the national coach’s selection, no matter how well he has been playing lately; that is striking. ‘If we win a match like this, everyone is happy’, Clasie summed up the feeling in Alkmaar.
In a short phase before half time Ajax gave away the lead. First, Devyne Rensch slipped away when he tried to intercept the ball with a sliding tackle. Pasveer doubted for a moment whether he would run out and Mees de Wit, once Ajax, pushed the ball in. In the stoppage time of the first half, when Ajax was probably already sipping a cup of tea in mind, Pantelis Hatzidiakos shot the ball more or less randomly. Calvin Bassey lifted offside, allowing Jens Odgaard to score easily. “I was hoping for offside,” said Pasveer. “But he finished it quickly, so he didn’t give me a chance to respond.”
After the break Ajax went hunting. In vain. It wasn’t easy either, with all those balls kept off the line, and moreover it kept on watching out for AZ. “In the last twenty minutes we created a lot of chances and we should have equalized. We must learn from this’, Schreuder remained calm as always.