Eredivisie ready for title ‘play-off’
Today either AFC Ajax or FC Twente will win the Dutch league title. It just so happens that they will play each other on the final day in what is effectively a play-off for the trophy at the Amsterdam Arena.
Reigning champions Twente are currently top of the standings with 71 points from 33 games as they look to retain their championship but victory for Ajax who are just a point behind in second place, would secure the Amsterdam side their 30th Eredivisie title.
As a ‘warm-up’ for this incredible end to the season, the rivals for the championship contested the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final just a week before their final league fixture.
That particular game ended up a classic as Twente managed to recover from a 2-1 half-time deficit to claim the league cup with a dramatic extra-time 3-2 win in the 116th minute.
Twente players celebrated their cup triumph in the traditional style by wearing dressing gowns whilst parading their trophy (pictured).
An Ajax victory today would be revenge for the KNVB Beker final defeat to the Enschede club last weekend.
The game itself was breathtakingly open throughout and a credit to the attacking philosophy employed by both title challengers. Unfortunately the nature of the occasion this weekend will probably see nerves lead to a more conservative approach than the league cup final.
Twente will win the championship with a win or even with a draw, enabling them to enter the Champions League group stages automatically. The Tukkers will hope to build on their debut season in the Champions League which saw them finish third in a group containing Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and Werder Bremen.
Twente reached the Europa League quarter-finals this season after Champions League elimination beating Russian champions Rubin Kazan and Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg before succumbing to Spanish side Villarreal 7-4 on aggregate.
The league title is not the only prize on offer for Ajax and Twente, a defeat could see either side miss out on Champions League football next season, as PSV Eindhoven add an intriguing aspect to the title clash.
PSV, in third place, will travel to Groningen aiming to leapfrog Ajax or Twente ensuring entry into the Champions League qualifiers. They will guarantee second place with a win against their fifth-placed opponents, irrespective of the outcome of the match between Ajax and Twente.
A loss at the Amsterdam Arena today for Ajax or Twente will see them finish third (if PSV win) and only achieve Europa League qualification. This could be disastrous for Ajax as they are already set to sell some of their top stars this summer.
Ajax coach Frank de Boer, initially installed as caretaker manager after the departure of Martin Jol, has the chance to win his first trophy as a manager and the first league title for the club since 2004. De Boer has changed the fortunes of the Dutch giants since moving from youth coach to permanent first-team coach in January amidst upheaval outside his control.
Ajax sold top-scorer Luis Suarez to Liverpool, Dutch international Urby Emanuelson to AC Milan whilst the imminent return of Johan Cruyff has resulted in boardroom turmoil. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg has been linked with a move to Manchester United whilst defenders Jan Vertonghen and Gregory van der Wiel are reportedly targets for Manchester City and Arsenal.
The former Barcelona player has reverted back to the famous youth policy of de Godenzonen as a starting point to rebuild his side, introducing a host of youngsters to the first-team and re-introducing the traditional Ajax 4-3-3 reliant on wing-play.
This play-off situation is unique in Dutch football history – two sides challenging for the title meet on the final day of the season for the first time ever – in what should be a fitting finale to an exciting title race.
Picture:Getty ImagesTagged in: Ajax, Champions League, Eredivisie, Europa League, KNVB Beker, Netherlands, PSV, Twente
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