SUNDAY 3RD AUGUST 2014
AJAX vs. PEC ZWOLLE (17:00 BST)
The Amsterdam Arena will host the Johan Cruijff Schaal this Sunday afternoon, as Frank de Boer’s Ajax will look for retribution in their own backyard against Ron Jans’s PEC Zwolle by Will Burns.
Zwolle smashed five past the Amsterdammers in the KNVB Beker final last April at De Kuip, home of Feyenoord. The Dutch cup is only domestic championship that has evaded De Boer in his tenure in Amsterdam and Ajax headed into Rotterdam that day as heavy favourites. The Blauwvingers defied all the odds and not only defeated the reigning Eredivisie champions, but desecrated them.
Ajax got off to the dream start as defender Ricardo van Rhijn hit a long range effort into the roof of Diederik Boer’s goal after just three minutes. However, the Ajax fans turned their celebrations into a ten-minute stoppage in the match after hurling fireworks onto the De Kuip pitch. After the pleading from the stewards and police to stop the flare throwing, Ajax legend Edwin van der Sar entered the fray to plead with the disrupters which seemed to finally do the trick.
Those same fans were feeling rather foolish after the restart as Zwolle emerged full of spark (pun intended) and a deflected shot from young New Zealander Ryan Thomas levelled the scores right in front of the troublesome crowd area. As Jans had just finished his punching of the air on the sidelines, Thomas smashed home a second goal minutes later, latching on a rebound after a Maikel van der Werff free-kick cannoned back of the post. An inspirational performance from the impressive Kamohelo Mokotjo, capped off a breakthrough season for the South African midfielder, when he fed on-loan Feyenoord striker Guyon Fernandez in for a third after 22 minutes of play. Fernandez added a fourth before half-time before Bram van Polen hammered the final nail into Ajax’s coffin firing home from a corner just five minutes after the interval. Frank de Boer, his team and their fans trudged on their coaches that night with the tail firmly between their legs.
Highlights below of Zwolle’s 5-1 cup final win over Ajax – via Ajax TV
Both sides will line up with many changes to their squads over the summer. Ajax have lost creative attacker Siem de Jong to Newcastle United and veteran Danish holding midfielder Christian Poulsen, now at the ripe old age of 34, was surplus to requirements as his contract whittled down.
The recruitment this summer has seen some unproven but promising young talent arrive in Amsterdam. The highly-rated Richairo Zivkovic joined from FC Groningen and looks to play a massive part in Ajax’s defence of the Eredivisie title, as Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik was loaned in from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. The 20-year-old Milik has impressed in pre-season, notching goals in many of the friendlies and looks like he could be a real threat instead of relying on Icelander Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, who only grabbed ten goals last season. Eventually signing a four-year deal is Robert Muric, 18-year-old Croatian midfielder, who’s move dragged on throughout the months after a contract wrangle with Dinamo Zagreb. The defence was also improved as Nick Viergever joined from rivals AZ Alkmaar for a fee of €2.5million.
In Zwolle, the core of the team has been diminished, which is very disappointing especially when the side are due to compete in European Football for the first time in their history. Big defender Darryl Lachman, a rock in the centre of defence last year, move onto FC Twente and striking pair Guyon Fernandez (a free agent after being released from Feyenoord) and Fred Benson (Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol) have moved on. Luckily for Jans, he still has Mokotjo, the star of the show, at his selction even though Frank de Boer has spoke about taking the midfielder and goalkeeper Diederik Boer to Ajax last month.
Jans has recruited well and could have unearthed a gem by signing Ben Rienstra from Heracles Almelo. Rienstra is a strong defensive midfielder that will protect the back four as well provide Mokotjo with support. Incoming from AZ Alkmaar is Finnish Under-21 international centre-back Thomas Lam as goalkeeper Boy de Jong, aged 20, signed on following his release from Feyenoord. Replacing Fernandez and Benson in attack are two Greek strikers, both with experience in German football. Twenty-year old centre forward Nikos Ioannidis arrives on a two-year loan with an option to buy from Olympiakos after scoring 6 goals in 30 games last season for Hansa Rostock. Finally, Dimitrios Ferfelis arrives from TuS Koblenz after notching 17 goals in 52 games over the last two terms in Regionalliga Südwest division.
As for the history between the two clubs, obviously, Ajax possesses the far superior record in meetings. In nine prior encounters, the Amsterdam giants have won seven, drawn one and the cup final defeat was their first and only loss so far.
Zwolle will put up a fight in this encounter; however, Ajax will desire to use this game as a launching pad for another successful season. Ajax needs vengeance, while Zwolle wants another scalp and their first Johan Cruijff Schaal, stopping Frank de Boer from claiming his fifth Schaal in a row.
However, can history repeat itself and Zwolle cause an upset again? Online bookmakers Betfair does not seem to think so, they have Zwolle as the major underdog at a massive 9/1 to overcome the Eredivisie champions.
For our best bet, I look at the goals market. Ajax have no shortage of firepower and I feel revenge will be served with the Amsterdammers seeing off Zwolle with ease. A 3-1 or 4-1 victory seems likely with chances produced at both ends, with 9/1 and 14/1 being offered respectively. Although our safest bet sees Over 3.5 Goals which is valued at 11/10 at Betfair and I see that our recommended punt.
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