16:30 – Ajax did not manage to win in Alkmaar. After taking a 0-1 lead in the first half, AZ brought a 2-1 lead in second company. A late equalizer prevented a defeat, but the national title does not go to Amsterdam this weekend due to a 2-2 draw.
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AZ knew in advance that with a win on goal difference over FC Twente it would rise to fourth place in the Eredivisie. Last week, it looked like it was heading for a narrow 0-1 win over Sparta, but in the final minute of overtime it had to deal with an equalizer. Coach Pascal Jansen changed his team in a number of positions after that match. Pantelis Hatzidiakos returned to the center of the defense at the expense of Sam Beukema, and Dani de Wits’ return to midfield meant that Tijani Reijnders started on the bench again today. Zakaria Aboukhlal was still in the starting line-up last week, but Jansen preferred Hakon Evjen to Ajax.
For Ajax, the task beforehand was simple: beat AZ, and then sit back and see if Feyenoord could secure the team from Amsterdam the title with a victory over PSV later in the afternoon. Erik ten Hag made a number of changes to his base compared to last week’s 3-0 win over PEC Zwolle, although for the first time he kept the 4-4-2 system against PEC. Where Youri Regeer, Ryan Gravenberch and Mohammed Kudus were allowed to start last week, they were relegated to the bench against AZ. In their place, Devyne Rensch started at right back, Edson Alvarez in midfield and Brian Brobbey along with top scorer Sébastien Haller in center forward. Dusan Tadic, second striker last week, was taken one line back and started as number 10. Earlier in the season, AZ won the first competitive match in Amsterdam by 1-2. Ajax already took revenge for this by winning 0-2 in the semifinals of the KNVB Cup in Alkmaar.
Ajax started the match dominant. AZ were regularly pushed back on their own half of the field with eleven men, but by keeping the seats small, they often managed to keep the Ajax players from the goal. Brobbey played a bit from the left side in training and fought some tough duels with Hatzidiakos, with referee Dennis Higler whistling for both once for violations. AZ came a little better in play after the first fifteen minutes, and managed a number of times to get close to Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal via the left side with Owen Wijndal and Jsper Karlsson. Karlsson, however, did not look for a number of goal attempts, and the experienced Stekelenburg did not have to make too much effort to keep the goal clean. Ajax got through the lines of AZ very little, and seemed to be able to create opportunities mainly from dead game moments. Until five minutes before half-time, when Brobbey ran out of Hatzidiakos’ back and burned a good pass from Kenneth Taylor over outgoing Vindahl into the empty AZ goal. With the 0-1 lead to Ajax, both teams went into the locker rooms moments later.
AZ changed their minds after the break, and it became clear within a minute when Karlsson again had room for a shot, which again went half a meter wide. Ajax immediately looked to get a chance on the other side via Brobbey, but encountered Vindahl. AZ remained right with the visitors in football, and after an hour of play, Pavlidis managed to head the deserved 1-1 behind Stekelenburg on the advice of Wijndal. Ten Hag intervened and pulled Rensch and Taylor to the side to chase a new lead with Mazraoui and Steven Berghuis. Moments later, Brobbey had to give up the match injured. With Mohamed Daramy in his place, Ajax looked to play 4-3-3 again. However, it was AZ who again managed to score. Again the cross came from the left, this time from Karlsson’s foot. Hakon Evjen was released completely at the far post and shot AZ to a 2-1 lead. Ajax should give something back, but AZ stayed on their toes for a long time. Until five minutes before the end, when Tadic with a turning corner found the head of Edson Alvarez, who could head 2-2 behind Vindahl.
After that, Ajax could not get further than that equalizer, so it returned from Alkmaar with only one point, and the championship has not yet been handed out this week. AZ is so far in fifth place, but will be happy with the hard-fought point.
Lists and ratings *:
AZ: Peter Vindahl 6.5; Yukinari Sugawara 6, Pantelis Hatzidiakos 6, Bruno Martins Indi 6.5, Owen Wijndal 7; Fredrik Midtsjo 6.5, Jordy Clasie 6.5, Dani de Wit 6; Hakon Evjen 6.5 (87. Tijani Reijnders), Vangelis Pavlidis 7 (93. Zakaria Aboukhlal), Jesper Karlsson 7
Ajax: Maarten Stekelenburg 6; Devyne Rensch 6 (66th Noussair Mazraoui 5), Jurriën Timber 6.5, Daley Blind 5.5 (81. Mohammed Kudus), Nicolas Tagliafico 6; Edson Alvarez 6.5, Davy Klaassen 6, Kenneth Taylor 6.5 (66. Steven Berghuis 5), Dusan Tadic 5; Brian Brobbey 7.5 (69. Mohamed Daramy 5), Sebastien Haller 5
Man of the match: Brian Brobbey
* The player must have played for a minimum of 20 minutes to qualify for a rating.