Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ajax or Twente

The most exciting finish in the history of the Dutch premier league is at hand. League leaders FC Twente play their final match of the season against second-place Ajax. With the Dutch league title at stake, and only a single point separating the two teams, we looks ahead to see who’ll be celebrating this Sunday.

Last year it was FC Twente who snatched league glory on the final day of play with a one point lead over Ajax. This year’s head-to-head decider is taking the excitement to fever pitch.
But there are three good reasons why Ajax will finally regain the Dutch league title.

1. Ajax’s successful new coach: Frank de Boer
Frank de Boer took charge at Ajax last December, replacing Martin Jol, who resigned after the Amsterdam club suffered a humiliating Champions League defeat at the hands of Real Madrid. Frank – twin brother of footballer Ronald de Boer – brought about a miraculous change of fortune. His first match as coach resulted in a 2-0 away victory against AC Milan in the Champions League. Since then Ajax have been back on form with their trademark combination of swagger, flair and strikers down the wing. With past mentors like Louis van Gaal and national coach Bert van Marwijk, and the backing of Ajax’s prodigal legend Johan Cruijff, how can De Boer fail?

2. Huge psychological advantage
Ajax has been playing catch-up all season and has been gathering serious momentum in recent weeks. At home, De Boer’s lads have reigned supreme, winning all six competition duels with a goal difference of 14-0. Ajax and FC Twente have clashed 44 times in Amsterdam, with Ajax winning all but ten of these encounters. True, FC Twente defeated Ajax last week to take the Cup, but that victory has only served to make Ajax even hungrier for premier league glory: Amsterdam’s desire to finally grab its 30th national title is stronger than ever.

3. Rock solid defence
Twente may have more talent on the offensive, but this season the Ajax defence has been in a class of its own. At its heart is Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen, a Franz Beckenbauer in the making. Vertonghen is accompanied by his burly compatriot Toby Alderweireld. The Belgians are flanked by Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel and talented young Dane Nicolai Boilesen. With national goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg out of action with a broken thumb, talented second keeper Kenneth van der Meer has the chance to prove himself on Sunday.
With all this going for them, how could the pride of Amsterdam fail? But let’s not forget: FC Twente are in pole position – not to mention being defending champions and Cup winners – and with good reason.

In other words, it’s time to take a look at three reasons why FC Twente will take home the league title once again.

1. FC Twente only need one point
Their one-point lead over Ajax means that FC Twente only need a draw in Amsterdam. And Twente have a coach who knows exactly how to achieve such a result: Belgium’s former top goalkeeper Michel Preud'homme. At the start of the season, many were surprised when this French-speaking Belgian loner took over the Twente reins from successful Englishman Steve McLaren. But last week’s Cup victory is clear proof that Preud'homme is an outstanding coach.

2. FC Twente has stars
A winning team needs a star, and FC Twente has two. One is Costa Rican striker Bryan Ruiz, a key goal scorer whose mere presence is enough to spur his team on to greater heights. And then there’s the phenomenal Theo Janssen, with his sublime insight and killer long shots. Some say the 29-year-old midfielder could have been snapped up by an English or Italian club long ago, if it hadn’t been for his love of alcohol, tobacco and tattoos.
Ajax is sadly lacking in star quality. They had Uruguay’s Luis Suarez but sold him to Liverpool last winter. Moroccan striker Mounir El Hamdaoui acts like a star, but his perceived arrogance has earned him weeks of derision from his own supporters.

3. The better brother
The Netherlands has a rich tradition of football brothers (Van de Kerkhof, Koeman, De Boer, Witschge). Sunday sees a new twist with striker Luuk de Jong playing for FC Twente and his brother Siem on the Ajax front line. But while Luuk is a force to be reckoned with at Twente, midfielder Siem has been moved up front at Ajax for want of better. So the battle of the strikers looks like a clear victory for Luuk... and for Twente.
Will FC Twente hold on to the title or has Ajax’s time finally come again? One thing is sure: one of them will be holding the championship trophy aloft on Sunday afternoon.

Day Opening - May 14

Manorola, Italy, by night