With the Amsterdam outfit only managing a draw against the un-fancied APOEL Nicosia, Ajax may have realistically killed their chances of progressing to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League once again, and Frank de Boer’s comments are not helping either.

  • By Adrian Bucher
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It’s the 2014 US Open Men’s Quarter-Final. Roger Federer had his serve broken early on in the first set by Gael Monfils, and although there was, in theory, plenty of time to recover from that set-back, the five-time US Open Champion went on to lose the opening set due to that solitary break of serve. Of course, tennis is a completely different sport than football, however, the analogy is clear. Even though there is, in principal, plenty of time for teams to recover from early set-backs so far in this season’s Champions League, for some clubs, these early hiccups may already end their hopes of progressing to the next round – and Ajax certainly run that risk, following Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw in Nicosia.

Frank de Boer’s side played heroically a fortnight ago to frustrate big-spenders Paris Saint Germain a fortnight ago, with many believing that the Parisians were lucky to escape the Amsterdam ArenA with any points at all. However, following the match against APOEL, Ajax have not done themselves any favours, and will look on their remaining group stage fixtures with much anxiety.

With two points from as many matches, Ajax currently stand third in the group, with two matches against Barcelona still to play, and an away match to Laurent Blanc’s PSG that defeated the Spaniards in Group F’s other match at the Parc des Princes. Even the most optimistic of Ajax fans know that a victory against either side will be hard to come by in these matches, and victory against APOEL Nicosia would have eased much of the pressure on the Amsterdam side to progress out of the group stages for the first time since the 2005/2006 edition.

The Eredivisie champions were simply wasteful, both in terms of possession and in front of goal, enjoying twice as much possession as their Cypriot counterparts, and registering 5 shots on goal compared to APOEL’s two. Nicolai Boilesen was the standout performer on Tuesday night, managing the highest passing accuracy (90%), highest number of interceptions (5) and was a constant threat all throughout the night down the right flank. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, on the other hand, was guilty of a shot accuracy of just 25% – hardly the man to lead the Ajax front-line in a group containing PSG and Barcelona.

Following the draw, Ajax manager, Frank de Boer, bemoaned the giving of the penalty before making a series of ambiguous comments that does not exactly encourage confidence in the Ajax camp: “We were lord and master…[but] unfortunately, we did not finish it off”, before going on to say  “I think we are better than APOEL.” Coming from the manager of one of Europe’s most decorated clubs, and with all due respect to APOEL Nicosia, such statements are unacceptable by the head coach of Ajax.

Former head coach Martin Jol, once remarked that upon being handed the Ajax job, the management would give a tour of the stadium and the museum in order to highlight the historic achievements of the Amsterdam side. As such, comments that downplay the ability of the team, or resign them to defeat, with comments such as “Winter in Europe is a must. Preferably in the Champions League, otherwise in the Europa League” should be viewed as unwelcomed.

The draw in Nicosia, though only achieved on the second of six match days may have already spelled the end of Ajax’s Champions League campaign – which Frank de Boer is already contemplating. Every match is like a final, and dropped points during the early stages will inevitably come back to haunt offenders. Incidentally, Roger Federer was able to famously come back from two sets down, and even saved two match-points against him to eventually progress to the semi-finals of the US Open.

Adrian Bucher (39 Posts)