(Reuters) - A Champions League victory over Celtic on Wednesday provided Ajax Amsterdam with a lifeline in the competition and also lifted a cloud of anxiety hanging over the Dutch side after some poor results.
Coach Frank de Boer pumped the air with his fist on the final whistle as a roar engulfed the stadium and the players fell on top of each other in a group hug after the 1-0 home win over the Scottish champions.
“It is a burden off our shoulders,” said goal hero Lasse Schone after the win pushed Ajax back into contention for a top two finish in Group H and a chance to advance to the knockout phase.
A sense of relief at the Amsterdam Arena was palpable after a series of recent setbacks led to some serious introspection in the build-up to the game.
On the eve of the match there were calls for calm and perspective as Ajax hobbled into the tie without a win in the group phase and on the back of some poor results in domestic competition.
Ajax had only a Dutch Cup win over amateur opposition to show from their five previous matches before Schone’s 51st minute goal provided them with success on Wednesday.
“It was great to win again and especially in the manner in which we did it. It was a big relief,” said the Danish international, among the more experienced players in a youthful squad struggling to match past successes of the four-times European champions.
“People panic too easily when there is a period of adversity. That makes no sense. They must concentrate on getting the footballing aspects right and we will see the results coming again,” said Johan Cruyff, the club legend who wields pervasive influence behind the scenes.
“The coming weeks will tell us if it is a question of quality or just a question of time,” he added in an interview in Wednesday’s edition of the weekly Voetbal International magazine.
Much of the analysis is about the way Ajax play and the insistence that good-looking football remains the ethos of the club, where Rinus Michel brought ‘total football’ to the world in the 70s.
Schone’s goal was typical of the way Ajax would like to play. A series of short, swift and probing passes on the edge of the Celtic penalty area involving five different players, each with precision and vision, before a back heel laid it up for Schone to steer goalward.
“You saw the will to win and a lot of good attacks. The goal was a good example of what we can do,” said De Boer after the match.
To qualify Ajax must finish ahead of AC Milan, who they play in the last group game in Italy in December. Before that they face leaders Barcelona at home on November 26.
The Spanish side are already through to the knockout stage with 10 points from their four matches with Milan on five, Ajax on four and Celtic bottom on three.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Patrick Johnston