‘The confidence is back,’ said a satisfied Feyenoord head coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst on Friday afternoon, two days ...
Coach Erwin Koeman is cautiously optimistic that both Theo Lucius and Nicky Hofs will be available for selection for the game of the year when Ajax visit De Kuip on Sunday. Hofs’s ankle trouble and Lucius’s hamstring problem kept the two players out Thursday’s draw in Switzerland and both were disappointed, but they could be straight back in the team as Feyenoord get back to Eredivisie business.
‘I didn’t want to risk them compounding their injuries and me having to do without them for weeks,’ explained Koeman. Feyenoord go into Sunday’s game as underdogs. ‘Ajax are playing better football than we are,’ admitted Koeman, ‘but fortunately that doesn’t always say everything. We’ll have to do something to counter that: fight. We have to ignite on Sunday, work damn hard and win a lot of individual battles.’
Koeman knows how most of his team will line up on Sunday, but he was willing to go into detail on Friday. The coach was happy to confirm Henk Timmer would be keeping goal against Ajax, despite showing apparent failings in conceding two free kicks in the recent matches in Waalwijk and Basel. ‘Though I haven’t seen the goal again I did speak about it with Henk after the game. I don’t think we should deliberate it too long. Feyenoord have to get on. Henk knows himself what he did well and what he did less well. He doesn’t need me for that. But it’s exaggerating things for me to blame Timmer for the goal. That’s too easy. It was a combination of factors that led to the goal going in. Defenders have to follow their man too of course. And the wall should be jumping rather than standing with their backs to the ball. We are one team. That’s what it’s all about. The players have to help each other. Starting on Sunday, because Feyenoord-Ajax is still a special game for the whole of Rotterdam.’
Ajax’s season threatened to come off the rails big time last year when the Amsterdam outfit found themselves out of the title race at an early stage. The pain of defeats to teams that Ajax would normally expect to beat was compounded by a double loss to Feyenoord. Coach Danny Blind’s head was on the chopping block long before the end of the campaign, yet as many prepared for a summer of hurt, Ajax scraped a place in the play-offs on the last match day before slaying Feyenoord and FC Groningen to secure a place in the Champions League qualifiers. Ajax also won the Dutch cup in the end. All in all, it meant the Amsterdammers could look forward to a much-improved 2006-7.
Danny Blind was shown the door in the summer despite this relative success and Henk ten Cate was brought in from Barcelona to replace him. The new coach started with a new squad too, as players like Galasek, Boukhari and Vonk all left the club, as did Trabelsi and Maxwell. Technical director Martin van Geel brought in Jaap Stam and Kenneth Perez, while Ten Cate’s Spanish links enabled the club to attract Gabri and Roger from that country to beef up the midfield.
The newcomers experienced a major disappointment in surrendering a Champions League place to FC Copenhagen, but Ten Cate has managed to secure six wins out of seven in the league. The only Eredivisie defeat came at Roda JC. The defence has looked a little ragged in the last two games, with keeper Stekelenburg conceding four goals against Groningen and Utrecht, but the free-scoring attack has kept Ajax ahead of the opposition until now.
Feyenoord – Ajax
Sunday 22 October, 12.30 at De Kuip
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Saidi, Greene, Léonard; Lucius, De Guzman, Buijs, Hofs; Boussaboun, Charisteas
Ajax: Stekelenburg; Emanuelson, Vermaelen, Stam, Heitinga; Sneijder, Maduro, Gabri; Rosenberg, Huntelaar, De Mul
LAST TEN LEAGUE MEETINGS
5/2/2006 Feyenoord - Ajax 3-2
17/4/2005 Feyenoord - Ajax 2-3
11/4/2004 Feyenoord - Ajax 1-1
6/10/2002 Feyenoord - Ajax 1-2
26/8/2001 Feyenoord - Ajax 1-2
28/8/2005 Ajax - Feyenoord 1-2
14/11/2004 Ajax - Feyenoord 1-1
30/11/2003 Ajax - Feyenoord 2-0
9/2/2003 Ajax - Feyenoord 1-1
3/3/2002 Ajax - Feyenoord 1-1