The first leg against Schalke 04 was amazing for Ajax, the play was fluid, stylish and devastating. Every Ajacied who took part played phenomenally and Davy Klaassen’s two goals saw Ajax taking a 2-0 lead into the away tie. This made Ajax a massive talking point here in England, with everyone full of praise for the quality of the side. Even Match of the Day pundits spoke about how good these young players are, with Amin Younes getting the majority of the plaudits for the way that he consistently beat Thilo Kehrer with such ease.
As we all know the second leg was very different. Ajax were overrun in the first 90 minutes and were nowhere near their best. However, there is something from this game that the English pundits won’t bother to touch upon which is just as important as everything they pointed out after that brilliant performance on the 13th. That is the character that was shown by the men wearing the Ajax colours.
Three goals down and a man down on the night it would have been easy for the Ajax players to fold and falter in the final 20 minutes of the tie. However, the team really pulled together and managed to fight their way through to the semi-final. This was far from vintage Ajax, but what was shown in that final period is exactly why this team can be much more than just a group of talented youngsters.
Nick Viergever epitomised that, especially with his goal. There wasn’t an abundance of skill involved, but it was mainly sheer determination to get through that led to him blocking Matija Nastasic’s clearance and guiding the ball into Ralf Fährmann’s goal. The man who was at left back in the absence of Daley Sinkgraven had the most shots on target, touches and interceptions of all the Ajax players on the night.
Another player who showed that determination is Tete, who replaced Bertrand Traoré to fill the void left by Joël Veltman when he was sent off. The academy graduate hasn’t had the best of times recently, but he came on and played with a real intensity, making great tackles and helping the team move forward.
It wasn’t just the defence though, as even though it wasn’t their best game technically, the likes of Klaassen and Hakim Ziyech showed a lot of fight and that is what ultimately got them over the line. Even 17-year-old Justin Kluivert was tracking back and putting in a shift to help out his team.
In the short term, that fight has got Ajax into the semi-finals of the Europa League. However whether it is at the Amsterdam ArenA or not, the ability to show that grit when it matters mixed with their undoubted talent will turn these stars into winners and champions.