Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The next opponent was very different: Ajax played against Real (Madrid) in the ½ finals. The Spaniards were a far cry from the great real of the 1950s and early 60s, but may be because of that they were particularly difficult team to beat. During the 1970s and the early 1980s Spanish teams hardly played football – they played war instead. So involved they were on fighting that it was hard to tell were they good or bad players – football was the last thing on their minds. For which they paid heavy price – their games were ugly affairs of kicking, wasting time, simulating, and arguing with the referees. Italians were playing the same kind of game, but at least one was able to glimpse occasional brilliance – by contrast, the Spaniards were so carried away by the war, they routinely forgot football at all. The ugliest and meanest tugs. Real fought from the first referee’s whistle to the last second and both legs were not fun to watch. Their anti-football was particularly difficult to beat simply because it was not football. However, Ajax showed another side of their brilliance – their tactical awareness and versatility. The fought as well, but never forgetting that they have to score and win. It was pragmatic approach nothing to do with freewheeling. The first match ended 2-1 for Ajax, a result seemingly favouring Real.
The second leg was no different, yet, the hostile Madrid did not scare the Dutch – they attacked and attacked. It was good tactical scheme: Real had to score and win, which was very likely given their anti-football approach. They needed 1-0 to go to the final and defensive tactics would not work against unpredictable because chaotic team – Ajax chose to attack whenever they got a chance, but in rather German manner. That is, playing physical football, waiting for opportunity without panic, and trying the unexpected. Again and again, and again. It was next to impossible to penetrate Spanish defense and get a scoring opportunity in the penalty area. Well, let’s try something else… which Gerry Muhren did – his shot from great distance was unexpected, looked frivolous, and hardly dangerous. It was lightning bolt of a shoot, but the goalkeeper clearly saw it and plunged to cover. The ball deflected from a unfortunate defenseman, trying to block it, and went into the net. Muhren did the unexpected and caught Spanish defense off guard – it was not that much lucky goal, but rather a result of determination to use whatever chance emerges. That was Ajax’s approach to the second leg and it paid off - they won 1-0.

A rare moment: Cruyff looks desperate. Very likely Real (Madrid) were the most difficult opponent the Great Ajax ever met – football was the last thing in the minds of the Spaniards. But anti-football lost at the end.