Yesterday 16th April Juventus and Ajax faced off for the second time within six days as Turin hosted the second tie of the Champions League Quarterfinals.
The first game ended in a 1-1 draw, but Ajax pulled off a dramatic result at Allianz Stadium beating the hosts 2-1 to go through to the semi finals on 3-2 goal aggregate.
The Old Lady were in supreme confidence and started the game on a high. The hosts opened the scoring through their record signing Cristiano Ronaldo who scored a thumping header from the corner. The decision went down to the VAR, but the replay suggested De Ligt pushing his own player to mark Cristiano Ronaldo.
Six minutes later, when Juventus defence went to sleep, Donny Van de Beek took full advantage of it find the bottom corner and score it past Wojciech Szczęsny. Juventus players were expecting the linesman to flag the Dutch International, but the right-back Mattia De Sciglio played him on side by a country mile.
Ajax were totally rejuvenated in the second half and ran the show from minute 46. Hakim Ziyech had an excellent chance to give the lead, but Wojciech made an excellent save to keep them in the tie. However, Skipper Matthijs De Ligt scored from a thumping header from a crowded area to beat Juventus goalkeeper Szczesny with a thumping header.
It was an excellent goal from the Ajax skipper who cleverly withdrew from Leonardo Bonucci and Cristiano Ronaldo to convert it.
But how has Ajax managed to come back to the top of European football?
Ajax football is fluid purity. In a genetic and tactical tribute to bygone eras, a deliciously flexible 4-3-3 deemed attack the most effective form of defence.
The essence of Total Football blended seamlessly with modern athleticism and a high-intensity press. It was new-style Total Football, and Ajax have one foot in a major European final for the first time since 1996. All with an average age of 21 years and eight months.
While direct comparisons with Louis van Gaal’s 1995 Champions League winners (and runners-up in 1996) require gentle exaggeration, there can be no doubt that Ajax under Peter Bosz are up to something special and now coach Erik ten Hag.
Having already seen off Real Madrid in the previous round, Ajax showed no fear against Ronaldo and the Italian giant either, advancing, 3-2, on aggregate.
“It’s an unforgettable night for Ajax, we eliminated one of the favorites for the competition,” Ajax coach Erik ten Hag said. “We played with confidence and patience. With our footballing philosophy we can go beyond expectation, we have once again surpassed our limits. It’s very difficult to play against us and our philosophy.”
Ajax will play either Manchester City or Tottenham in the semifinals.
‘Philosophy’ and ‘style of play’ are terms often maligned by the corporate circus of modern football. However in Amsterdam at the soon-to-be-confirmed Johan Cruyff Arena, their definitions carry a most genuine and almost tactile meaning. A modern take on Total Football has seen 2016/17 herald a renaissance for the Amsterdammers.
The renaissance has been a while coming. It’s been over a decade since Ajax made any European quarter-final, and precisely two decades since they reached a semi-final. In the meantime, domestic dominance has papered over cracks and flattered to deceive.
Romantics suggest this season’s golden and premature coming of age is a direct result of Cruyff’s Velvet Revolution, an often ugly boardroom battle to realign Ajax to its true philosophy.
Pragmatists point to the recent work of Bosz and his staff, and Ajax finally making good in the transfer market.
While Cruyff’s influence could and should never be underestimated, the truth, as it invariably does, lies somewhere in the middle.