NAC were comprehensively beaten by Feyenoord in Breda on Wednesday evening, with the visitors running out 4-0 winners. ‘I...
Two wins over archrival Ajax will count for nothing Thursday when Feyenoord travel to Amsterdam for the first leg of the Champions League playoff semi-final. Feyenoord finished a country mile ahead of their opponents in the regular season, but the slate is wiped clean as the sides prepare to lock horns again. The two coaches feel that the game has something of a European atmosphere to it and Erwin Koeman for one is pumped up.
‘I expressed my irritation a number of time during the final training session,’ admitted the coach. ‘I have that feeling of tension that I had in my stomach during this type of crucial stage of the season as a player. The next few days are what it’s all about; everyone has to be aware of that.’
Feyenoord won in the Arena as early as August 2005, but coach Koemen feels that game is ancient history. Thursday’s match is a lot more important, with the winners taking a step closer to the Champions League and the losers season abruptly ended with ‘only’ a place in next season’s Uefa Cup. ‘One bad game can be fatal,’ warned the coach the day before the game. ‘In the league it’s about 34 games. You can drop points and rectify things at a later date. That is not possible in the coming days. It’s the Champions League Ajax, AZ and Feyenoord are fighting for and FC Groningen are logically looking on as an extra. I could start philosophising till the cows come home, but let’s just let the lads play a game of football.’
Ajax have had a poor campaign, scraping into the playoffs right at the death, but Erwin Koeman is fully aware that all goes out of the window when the play-offs get underway. ‘Ajax have been fairly changeable, taking the whole season into consideration, but that can be concluded with one great move or goal,’ admits the Feyenoord coach. ‘It is a new competition and they’ll start enormously motivated on Thursday. Ajax have to get a result, because they are starting at home. We have to work on that assumption.’
One asset that the Amsterdam club certainly have is Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who heads the Dutch scoring list and is even in contention for Uefa’s Golden Boot.
Huntelaar and the Dutch football association’s decision to turn Champions League qualification into a lottery have been the two buoys that have kept the Ajax canal boat afloat in 206. Despite an embarrassing points haul that saw Ajax finish the regular season streets behind not only champions PSV but also third place Feyenoord, the G-14 club broke the playoff door down on the penultimate day of the Eredivisie calendar, with two goals in the last three minutes against Vitesse at the Arena, setting Danny Blind’s side up for a last day clincher at RKC Waalwijk. It’s a far cry from the Ajax of yore.
In terms of team selection, Pieter Collen for sure will be missing from the starting line-up against the old enemy, after his hamstring started playing up again. The Belgian is hoping that he’ll be back in the starting eleven Sunday when the sides hook up for the return at De Kuip. But Collen’s injury is the only disappointment for the Maassiders ahead of the game, because everyone is fit for the Arena, save treatment room regulars Alfred Schreuder and Tim Vincken.
The Amsterdam outfit trained behind closed doors on the eve of the fixture, but what is known is that Wesley Sneijder and Zdenek Grygera will miss both legs. Hatem Trabelsi’s knee injury is another setback for the home side, although the Tunisian may make the return.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLAYOFF SEMI-FINAL FIRST LEG
Ajax - Feyenoord
Thursday 20 April, 20:15 at the Amsterdam Arena
Ajax: Stekelenburg; Boakye, Heitinga, Vermaelen, Emanuelson; Galasek, Maduro, Boukhari; Rosales, Huntelaar, Rosenberg.
Feyenoord: Lodewijks; Greene, Vlaar, Bahia, Bosschaart; Hofs, Paauwe, De Guzman; Castelen, Kuyt, Kalou.
LAST TEN 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