Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Going Dutch

A crucial Champions League match this evening as Ajax try to plot their way through to the last 16 against Borussia Dortmund.

Qualification - which looked unlikely after two opening defeats - would see Ajax in the second stage of the competition for the first time since 2006 and for only the second time since 2000.

A fallow period for a once imperious European side. The Champions League and the explosion of TV money has made many clubs richer but the gap between the super wealthy and the middle class has grown.

Ajax, from a modest domestic league, have fallen foul of the UEFA revolution.

They impressed in large parts of their double header against Manchester City though, taking four points and rekindling the dream.

That turnaround in European form seemed to carry a domestic tariff as they slipped behind in the Eredivisie.

Certainly on Saturday night against second bottom VVV Venlo they looked to have their mind on other things.

The 2-0 win was comfortable enough - VVV came to defend and didn't offer much else - but it was a perfunctory performance.

Christian Eriksen was particularly out of sorts while Christian Poulsen's man of the match award was based on little more than making fewer mistakes than his colleagues.

A fine free kick from Derk Boerrigter looked to be enough to settle the game before league debutant Danny Hoesen removed any doubt.

VVV might have regretted their lack of ambition with Robert Cullen too lightweight and too isolated up front to give their rare attacks any real threat.

While the home fans housed in the south of the Amsterdam Arena can still make the stadium tremble when their in the mood, for a long stretch of the evening the biggest cheers greeted the sight of Jari Litmanen on the big screens.

Litmanen, like current Ajax manager Frank de Boer, is a reminder of more fruitful adventures in Europe.

On Saturday it was hard to escape the conclusion that the present side are focused more on recapturing some of that European glory than on mundane domestic chores. They run the risk of being unable to raise their game.

The Amsterdam Arena, apparently still not wholly embraced by the faithful, was somewhere short of full but remains imposing enough.

And you can get a beer. Civilisation still exists outside of Scotland.

I even got a free programme although it will take me six months and an Dutch-English dictionary to read it.

The name is misleading though. The stadium is too far out of the city to feel like Amsterdam.

We parked in a multi-storey attached a shopping centre, making our way down escalators and passed bland coffee bars and chain stores to get to the stadium.

The romance of modern football. As The Beautiful South so nearly sang: "This could be Amsterdam or anywhere..."

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