DAVID SHONFIELD: Ajax get cake but lose Dutch title to PSV after final day shock result

No sporting event this week can quite compete with the crowning of Leicester City.

All over Europe, people have been enjoying and sharing in the fairytale, particularly in Italy which went Leicester-crazy during Saturday’s title celebrations.

But for those who like drama the climax of the Dutch football season on Sunday came a close second.

Coming into the final day, PSV and Ajax were neck and neck: Level on points but with Ajax ahead on goal difference. Both sides were playing away against opponents they usually beat, although PSV were at Zwolle where they unexpectedly lost last year.

Ajax, however, were at De Graafschap — one of those contests that gives the Eredivisie a bad name. Ajax have never lost to De Graafschap, home or away, and their previous five visits had yielded 28 goals.

This time the bookies had them odds-on to score three goals or more, so Ajax were obviously favourites to win the title too. De Graafschap staff had even baked them a special cake for the occasion.

In the first-half it looked as though the bookies and bakers were right.

Ajax had the ball in the net, but two players were foolishly standing offside. Then they scored, and could have had a couple more. Victory seemed assured, the away fans were in great voice. Back in Amsterdam the crowds were gathering to welcome their team back as champions.

Then, 10 minutes after half-time, almost out of the blue came the equaliser, with the Ajax keeper Jasper Cillessen wrongfooted by a shot from distance.

There was still time, but as the news arrived that PSV were winning 3-1 the Ajax fans began to fall silent, and their anxiety spread to the players.

Shots failed to find their target, players got in each other’s way, and De Graafschap might even have grabbed a second.

The end was torture.

Five minutes of stoppage time, players wilting in the sun then collapsing in miserable despair at the final whistle.

Manager Frank De Boer was so devastated that he turned and walked straight to the dressing room, leaving his players to fend for themselves.

Over in Zwolle, the game was already finished, the PSV players gathered nervously on the pitch waiting for news, when suddenly there was a huge cheer from their fans and the entire squad sprinted to the far end of the ground to join in a delirious dance.

No cake, just ecstasy.

Dutch football hasn’t had that much to celebrate recently.

That unexpected third place in the 2014 World Cup with Louis Van Gaal in charge has more or less been obliterated by their collapse in the qualifiers for Euro 2016. Seeded third in an expanded tournament they started badly and finished abjectly.

In the Champions League this season Ajax were bundled out in the qualifiers. Though PSV did well to take Atletico Madrid to a penalty shoot-out, the two Dutch sides that made it to the Europa League group stage managed just two wins between them.

The Eredivisie is uncompetitive and exciting players like Memphis Depay struggle to make an impact elsewhere. But appearances can be deceptive. Good players keep coming through, as do coaches such as Ronald Koeman, Frank De Boer and Phillip Cocu.

It is often said that Dutch football is weak defensively, and the statistics tend to support that view. There are a lot of goals, but also a lot of cheap goals.

On the other hand defenders such as Virgil Van Dijk at Southampton and Daley Blind at Manchester United have made a very successful transition to the Premier League. Timothy Fosu-Mensah, just called up to the Dutch national squad, looks to be another.

There is also quality in midfield, for example Kevin Strootman, Marco Van Ginkel and Ibrahim Afellay.

All three have the potential to succeed at the top level, but all have suffered from a perennial Dutch problem — cruciate ligament injuries.

Of the new generation perhaps the most exciting talent is Vincent Janssen of AZ, top scorer in the Eredivisie at the age of 21. With Dutch players missing from this summer’s shop window in France, they may be easier transfer targets and Janssen may well be the next to move abroad.


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