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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Europa League - Manchester United vs Ajax: Ajax, We Are Proud of You!

We gave it our best. After the 2-0 defeat in Amsterdam we had nothing to lose, and we can be very satisfied – to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford is a big honour for us.  - Miralem Sulejmani

After their 0-2 defeat at home, Ajax visited Manchester with nothing left to lose. Manchester United, one of the best clubs in the world, were beaten by the away side Ajax 1-2. This was the best game for Ajax in this season, and coach De Boer became the first Dutch coach who won a game at Old Trafford.

Aras Ozbiliz after his goal

Just after the game began, Park made a good interception and Hernandez scored in a very calm manner. Considering the deference in quality of players (and also the fact that United were the home side), the situation seemed almost hopeless for Ajax. However, Ajax have long history in European football and they have never changed their attacking play style no matter who the opponents are. Ajax never lost their pride and confidence even after the first goal by United. They maintained ball possession throughout the game (United 42: 58 Ajax), and the defenders didn't lose concentration. Sulejmani and Lodeiro showed a good combination near the United goal, and De Jong contributed very much to both defense and attack (he played as defensive midfielder in the second half and did a good job). Vertonghen once told the media that he didn't think he should play like a real captain, but this time he led Ajax with great captainship and excellent reading of the game.

The Man of the Match was clearly Aras Ozbiliz. He became the equalizer with a good half volley shot, and his free kick led to Alderweireld's powerful header, which gave victory to Ajax. Faced with United defender Fabio, he showed good dribbling and passing skills.

from BBC.co.uk
Despite their victory at this away game, Ajax were eliminated from the tournament on goal difference. But I want to congratulate them on their never-give-up attitude. And this experience meant a lot to them.

Of course, from the next match Ajax can concentrate on the Eredvisie only while other Dutch teams in the Europa League (PSV, AZ and Twente) progress to the next round. But more importantly, you should pay attention to the fact that many Ajax players in the match were very young players who made their first team debut just one or two years ago. Left back Koppers (20 years old) and midfielder/attacker Klaassen (19) received their first cap for Ajax just four months ago, and right back Van Rijn (20) five months ago. Ozbiliz (20) made his Eredivisie debut during the last season. Serero (21) made his dream come true last year by joining the Dutch champions from Ajax Cape Town. All others who played in this match, with exceptions of Sulejmani and Lodeiro, are the products of Ajax youth academy. Of course, the match against a big club like United was a good opportunity for them to call attention to their future employers, but also an important moment for their development in terms of mentality as well as football skills and tactics.

Admittedly, the victory was largely attributed to the poor performance by United and the absence of United striker Rooney. However, I was simply impressed and deeply moved by not only their good performance but also the philosophy and mentality they had as a club that had great history in the world of football. I hope Ajax can grow stronger, someday defeat a club like United once again, and hold a title in European competitions. Ajax players and fans should be proud of themselves.

They will return to the title race in their home country. Ajax will face Excelsior tomorrow.

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