As the thirty fourth and final round of the 2016/17 Eredivisie campaign got underway with, for the second week in succession, all nine fixtures kicking off at the same time on Sunday afternoon, it was judgement day for both table-topping, Feyenoord and second placed, Ajax.
Separated by just a single point following Feyenoord’s incredible capitulation at the hands of city neighbours, Excelsior last time out, there was all to play for as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side played host to European hopefuls, Heracles while, fresh from reaching a first European final for twenty one years after squeezing past Olympique Lyonnais 5-4 on aggregate – despite losing 3-1 at the Parc OL on Thursday evening, Ajax made the trip to Willem II in the hope that their bitter rivals would once again fall victim to the nerves that allowed Peter Bosz’s men back into the title race after their three goal reversal at the Stadion Woudestein.
With De Kuip packed to the rafters, a number of large screens had been erected around the city and, much like last week, the people of Rotterdam were out in numbers and ready to celebrate a long-awaited fifteenth league title eighteen years after Leo Beenhakker’s side had delivered the club’s last Eredivisie crown in 1999.
Following the announcement that Rotterdam City council had given Feyenoord the green light to build a new stadium, having committed €135 million to the project – dubbed ‘Feyenoord City’, which will see Rotterdam boast the largest stadium in the Netherlands by 2022, the smoke had barely cleared in the club’s current atmospheric surrounds when skipper, Dirk Kuyt – who had been drafted in by van Bronckhorst after Tonny Vilhena’s booking last time out ruled him out of the game, capitalised on a mistake by Mike te Wierik – who stumbled in his attempt to clear a long throw from Bart Nieuwkoop, before lashing the ball beyond the exposed Bram Castro in the Heracles goal to give the side that have topped the standings since an opening day mauling of Groningen the perfect start after just 38 seconds.
Eleven minutes later the talismanic 36-year-old was at it again – Kuyt escaping the attentions of Justin Hoogma to head home Eljero Elia’s perfectly placed cross from the left at the near post to double the host’s advantage.
Despite their rivals’ barn-storming start to proceedings, second placed, Ajax – who, following a draining 2nd leg in France, fielded the youngest line-up in Eredivisie history with an average age of 20 years and 139 days, were determined to keep themselves in contention for, what would have been, a thirty fourth league title in the club’s trophy-laden history and hit the front in Tilburg seven minutes before the break through a close range finish by 19-year-old, Kasper Dolberg – Justin Kluivert slipping in the young Dane for his 23rd of the season in all competitions and his tenth in his last twelve outings with a low cross from the left.
Any thoughts of a come-back by the hosts were dispelled three minutes into the second half when Ajax’s Colombian centre half, Davinson Sanchez was on hand to double the away side’s advantage – the 20-year-old, rising highest to head home a Donny van de Beek corner from the left.
Ajax’s inspirational skipper, Davy Klaassen hinted in the aftermath of the game at the Koning Willem II Stadion that this could well have been his last league outing for the club and, if the Dutch international does ultimately elect to move on during the summer, he signed off his Eredivisie career in style with one final goal to make it three in the 66th minute and twenty in all competitions for the 24-year-old this term – Kluivert running on to an incisive through ball by Abdelhak Nouri, hitting the by-line and drawing the ‘keeper before pulling the ball back for his skipper to tap into an empty net.
Despite Erwin van de Looi’s side only managing to find a single goal by way of response, the fact that it came from Feyenoord loanee, Jari Schuurman eight minutes from time was symbolic as, just two minutes later, his parent club would put the seal on their long-awaited fifteenth league title when Kuyt made it three from the spot after referee, Dennis Higler compounded a miserable afternoon for te Wierik by ruling that the Groningen-bound centre half had unlawfully pulled back Nicolai Jorgensen as the league’s top goal-scorer had attempted escape the attentions of the 18-year-old on the edge of the box.
This all served to set the stage for the Feyenoord skipper to step up and bag both the league title and his hat-trick to add the perfect ending to his own fairy tale – Kuyt sending Castro the wrong way with the resultant penalty kick to make it fifteen for the season in all competitions for the versatile former Dutch international who has yet to decide what the future holds for him beyond the end of the current campaign.
With the title party now well and truly in full swing both inside De Kuip and on the Coolsingel, those in attendance hardly noticed when Peter van Ooijen’s 89th minute rocket left Brad Jones rooted to the spot and nestled into the back of the net via the Australian’s left hand upright – a strike that ultimately did little to help John Stegeman’s troops in their forlorn quest for a place in the end-of-season UEFA Europa League playoff places.
Meanwhile, for hat-trick hero, Kuyt, coach, van Bronckhorst and Feyenoord’s long-suffering fans, this was the stuff dreams were made of as the club toasted their first league title of the 21st Century at long last.
For second placed, Ajax there remains the small matter of a first European final in more than two decades – Peter Bosz’s men locking horns with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in the final of the UEFA Europa League at the Friends Arena in Solna on Wednesday 24th May.
Elsewhere, out-going back-to-back champions, PSV Eindhoven signed off what has ultimately proved to be a disappointing campaign for Phillip Cocu’s men by hitting PEC Zwolle for four at the Philips Stadion.
Despite Ted van de Pavert capitalising on some poor handling by Dutch international, Jeroen Zoet to put the away side into the lead just short of the half hour mark, four goals in ten second half minutes ultimately saw the home side sweep aside their visitor’s challenge.
Having trailed at the break, Hector Moreno clawed the hosts back onto level terms twelve minutes from time – the 29-year-old heading home a flick-on from Chelsea loanee, Marco van Ginkel following a corner from the left, before the Mexican international’s defensive colleague, Santiago Arias put the home side in the driving seat a minute later with a rare left-footed drive from range that left Mickey van der Hart rooted to the spot.
Having netted seventeen times for the club’s second team in the Eerste Divisie this term, Sam Lammers capped his first start at Eredivisie level – having been drafted into the side in place of the injured Luuk de Jong, by bagging his second goal in as many games after his strike at Groningen had salvaged a point for Cocu’s misfiring charges last time out – beating van der Hart with a low drive from the edge of the box five minutes from time before the man who had teed him up – substitute, Bart Ramselaar, got in on the act by sliding in a fourth after being picked out by an angled through ball from fellow replacement, Oleksandr Zinchenko three minutes later.
FC Groningen went into their last game of the season in Enschede knowing that only a win would be good enough to keep alive their hopes of snatching a place in the end-of-season UEFA Europa League playoffs and Ernest Faber’s side managed just that in a remarkable eight-goal encounter with FC Twente on Sunday afternoon.
The away side wasted little time and hit the front with just two minutes on the clock through a ninth goal in as many games for Bryan Linssen – debutant, Glenn Bijl picking out the unmarked 26-year-old at the back post with a pinpoint low cross from the right.
Despite many predicting a season of struggle for Rene Hake’s men, it has been quite the opposite for the cash-strapped Enschede-based outfit, who, if not for the sanctions imposed by the KNVB, would themselves be looking forward to the post-season European scramble, and the home side were back on level terms just seventeen minutes later through Dylan George – the 18-year-old rising highest at the near post to head home a Mateusz Klich corner from the left to bag his first for the club.
However, a quick-fire double from Oussama Idrissi in the space of four minutes soon saw the away side back in the driving seat – the 21-year-old curling the ball beyond the static Nick Marsman in the Twente goal from just outside the area after cutting inside Jeroen van der Lely with 25 minutes gone before producing a carbon-copy finish shortly before the half hour mark after capitalising on some ponderous play by Klich.
To make matters worse for the hosts, an own goal by the unfortunate Stefan Thesker – following a Groningen corner from the right, two minutes before the break saw the away side go in a the interval with a seemingly unassailable advantage.
Yet the home side refused to throw in the towel and clawed their way back into the game once more shortly after the hour mark through a penalty from Klich after referee, Pol van Boekel had ruled that Jesper Drost had shoved Twente full back, Dejan Trajkovski in the area in the 64th minute.
However, any thoughts of a comeback by Hake’s men were dispelled just two minutes later when 21-year-old Norwegian, Alexander Sørloth headed home a fifth for Faber’s side after being found unmarked at the back post by a perfectly weighted Jason Davidson cross from the left, which, thanks to Heracles’ failure to take anything from their trip to De Kuip, saw Groningen snatch an unlikely UEFA Europa League playoff berth despite Manchester City loanee, Enes Unal adding a third for the hosts five minutes from time.
Elsewhere, two sides who had already tied up their places in the end-of-season scramble for European football played out a thriller of their own at the AFAS Stadion where FC Utrecht ultimately edged out the ten men of AZ Alkmaar.
Things seemed to be going the away side’s way when, a minute after hitting the front through Ajax loanee, Richairo Zivkovic – who tapped home a Nacer Barazite cross from the right at the near post, the home side were reduced to ten men when Jonas Svensson was given his marching orders by referee, Martin van den Kerkhof in the 33rd minute after the Norweigian defender pulled down Zivkovic just outside the area and was adjudged, somewhat controversially by the official, to have been the last man – despite Thomas Ouwejan also appearing to be between the on-loan forward and Tim Krul in the host’s net.
To add insult to injury, Zakaria Labyad then doubled the host’s advantage from the resultant free kick – the 24-year-old’s strike leaving Dutch international, Krul rooted to the spot.
However, having been lucky not to fall further behind when Andreas Ludwig’s wayward cross from the left cannoned back off the inside of Krul’s left hand upright five minutes after the resumption and despite being a man-down, John van den Brom’s men clawed their way back into the game six minutes after the restart when the unfortunate Utrecht skipper, Mark van der Maarel put through his own net after the centre half attempted to clear a flick-on by Alireza Jahanbakhsh following a corner from the right.
Yet the host’s revival was short-lived as Erik ten Hag’s side soon restored their two-goal cushion through Nacer Barazite who produced a neat turn and finish from the edge of the area – following a deft flick from Sean Klaiber, two minutes later.
However, despite ultimately coming up short, the beaten cup finalists rallied and, having seen Stijn Wuytens flick the ball onto the foot of the returning Robbin Ruiter’s left hand upright, John van den Brom’s men did find a second through Jahanbakhsh with twenty two minutes left to play – the Iranian international’s back post header being correctly adjudged by the official to have crossed the line before Ruiter managed to claw the ball away following a Levi Garcia cross from the left.
Indeed, the undermanned hosts could even have taken an unlikely share of the spoils had AZ’s top goal-scorer, Wout Weghorst not seen his powerful header come back off the underside of Ruiter’s crossbar ten minutes from time.
Meanwhile, two sides who – thankfully for their respective fans, had nothing riding on their last day encounter in The Hague met at the Kyocera Stadion where hosts, ADO Den Haag hit visitors, Excelsior for four.
It took just eight minutes for Alfons Groenendijk’s men to break the deadlock – Sheraldo Becker drilling the ball low and hard past the exposed Warner Hahn in the visitor’s goal after being found with time and space on the right of the away side’s area by Dion Malone.
However, fresh from having torn up Feyenoord’s title-winning script last time out, Mitchell van der Gaag’s men were at it again twelve minutes later – Jeffry Fortes flicking Fredy Ribeiro’s long range drive past a wrong-footed Robert Zwinkels to bring the away side back onto level terms.
Yet the visitors were soon behind once more thanks to a diving header from Japanese international, Mike Havenaar – a man reborn under Groenendijk, who restored the host’s advantage with his sixth goal in his last eight outings five minutes later, before QPR loanee, Abdenasser El Khayati tucked home a third for the home side from the edge of the box shortly after the half hour mark – the 28-year-old’s fourth in his last seven outings.
Any hopes the away side may have harboured of making a comeback were dispelled twenty five minutes from time, and it was a case of ‘better late than never’ when 23-year-old Ivory Coast international, Wilfried Kanon pounced to bag his first of the season from close range and make it four for the hosts after a Danny Bakker flick-on at the near post had initially cannoned back of Hahn’s right hand upright following an El Khayati corner from the right.
While the thirty fourth and final round of fixtures brought clarification at the top of the standings the only issue settled prior to Sunday’s final round of fixtures was that Go Ahead Eagles would be returning to the second tier just a year after bouncing back from the Eerste Divisie following last weekend’s four goal reversal at the hands of title-chasing, Ajax.
The issue of who would end the season in the dreaded promotion/ relegation playoff places directly above the doomed Deventer-based outfit was still very much up in the air with just two points separating three sides.
Despite having nothing to play for, the Eagles would still have a big say on the fate of those above them as Robert Maaskant’s men played host to the side who had emerged from the second tier as champions a year earlier – Sparta Rotterdam, with Alex Pastoor’s side knowing that a win was vital if they were to avoid the lottery of the post season scramble for survival.
The same was true for interim NEC Nijmegen boss, Ron de Groot who – fresh from masterminding a first win since the first week of March for the struggling side who had parted company with former coach, Peter Hyballa prior to their much needed victory last time out against AZ Alkmaar, took his side to European hopefuls, Heerenveen.
Meanwhile, the third of the sides struggling to escape the clutches of the bottom three – Roda JC, despite holding a two point advantage over their relegation rivals, were faced with perhaps the most difficult task of those aiming to avoid the drop as the Kerkrade-based outfit made the trip to cup winners, Vitesse Arnhem, and so it proved – Yannis Anastasiou’s troops finding themselves a goal down after just three minutes when Ricky van Wolfswinkel tapped the ball into an empty net after Chelsea loanee, Lewis Baker had seen his back post header come back off Benjamin van Leer’s right hand upright.
Things soon got worse for the away side as, shortly before the half hour mark, news began to trickle through of a goal for NEC Nijmegen – who edged their way out of the bottom three through Arnaut Groeneveld’s first of the season after the product of the PSV youth system capitalised on Doke Schmidt’s stumble under Dario Dumic’s long hanging ball into the box to beat the exposed Erwin Mulder.
Shortly before the hour mark, the misery of the Roda fans was compounded by news of Martin Pusic giving Sparta Rotterdam the lead at De Adelaarshorst – the man on loan from FC Midtjylland edging his side ahead of NEC in the battle for survival by heading home a free kick from half time replacement, Craig Goodwin from close range.
Ahead of making the trip to Friesland, Ron de Groot’s side had no doubt secretly fancied their chances of taking all three points from their encounter with a badly out-of-form Heerenveen side who had recorded just four wins since the turn of the year to leave Jurgen Streppel’s side in danger of missing out on a place in the UEFA Europa League playoffs altogether and, shortly after the hour mark, the visitors doubled their advantage through Liverpool loanee, Taiwo Awoniyi – the 19-year-old heading home a flick-on by Dumic following a corner from the right to notch his second in as many games after the Nigerian had bagged the winner a week earlier against beaten cup finalists, AZ.
Despite being on course to ultimately secure back-to-back victories in the league for the first time since mid-January, de Groot’s men were all too aware that a win at the Abe Lenstra Stadion may not prove enough to save them due to their horrendous goal differential.
However, the picture at the foot of the standings was changing rapidly due to events in Deventer where, despite their fate having already been sealed, the home side rallied late on and clawed their way back onto level terms nineteen minutes from time through Darren Maatsen – Jarchinio Antonia streaking away down the left before teeing up the 26-year-old for his fourth of the season.
Yet, Maaskant, who will now step aside, with former Feyenoord and Excelsior coach, Leon Vlemmings set to take the helm in Deventer next term, saw his side fall behind once more just nine minutes later when Pusic struck for a second time – the on-loan Austrian forward stabbing home his sixth goal in his last eight outings for Pastoor’s side past Theo Zwarthoed from close range to drag Sparta to the brink of survival having been found once more by a pinpoint ball from super-sub, Goodwin after the Australian had gotten free down the left.
Meanwhile, in Arnhem things were looking bleak for Roda who, just two minutes after falling behind to a second from van Wolfswinkel ten minutes from time after the 28-year-old had been unselfishly teed up by substitute, Alexander Büttner – despite the full back finding himself clean through on goal, then found themselves reduced to ten men when referee, Bas Nijhuis gave Mitchel Paulissen his marching orders following a two-footed lunge on Marvelous Nakamba.
When Goodwin capped a remarkable performance from the bench – making the points safe by adding Sparta’s third with a daisy-cutting free kick that served to catch out Zwarthoed’s carefully positioned wall a minute from time, the sizeable away contingent were left every bit as delirious as those dancing in the streets of Rotterdam at the very same moment in celebration of Feyenoord’s fifteenth league title, as Pastoor’s side secured their top flight status and avoided the post-season survival scramble by virtue of a vastly superior goal difference over sixteenth place, NEC.
Consigned to guiding Roda through several more weeks of nail-biting, high stakes football before taking up his new role at Belgian outfit, KV Kortrijk next term, Yannis Anastasiou watched on in despair as Chelsea loanee, Baker who, after confirming recently that, after two years in Arnhem, he would be returning to Stamford Bridge next season, signed off with a fifteenth goal of the season in all competitions for Henk Fraser’s side two minutes into added time – the 22-year-old lobbing the ball over van Leer after being played in just inside the area by Milot Rashica.
All of which means that, while Sparta can plan for another season amongst the elite of Dutch football, both NEC and Roda must now negotiate the post-season free-for-all that is the end-of-season promotion/ relegation playoffs which get underway on Thursday evening with Ron de Groot’s men heading to FC Emmen while, on the same day, Yannis Anastasiou’s side travel to face Helmond Sport in the opening match of their tie with the return legs of both taking place three days later.
The winners of both ties will then go on to meet the sides who manage to negotiate the other two all-second tier ties in the final round where they will play off for one of two vacant places in the top flight next season.
Results: Week 34
Feyenoord 3-1 Heracles Almelo
Willem II 1-3 AFC Ajax
PSV Eindhoven 4-1 PEC Zwolle
FC Twente 3-5 FC Groningen
AZ Alkmaar 2-3 FC Utrecht
ADO Den Haag 4-1 Excelsior
Go Ahead Eagles 1-3 Sparta Rotterdam
SC Heerenveen 0-2 NEC Nijmegen
Vitesse Arnhem 3-0 Roda JC
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