In case you all didn’t catch the delirium in the Netherlands as at the final day of the Eredivisie would decide the winner of the Kampioenschaal (Champion’s Shield; which is the trophy for the victors of the Eredivisie).
This time, for a long time running, Feyenoord Rotterdam is out of the equation; there are only three teams running for the title – AZ Alkmaar, Ajax Amsterdam and of course, PSV Eindhoven.
Now, the scenario – all 3 teams are level on points but all the teams are positioned as I’ve mentioned above chronologically, with AZ holding a rather massive +6 goal difference margin at the summit of the table over Ajax which is second – with a rather persuasive PSV close on Ajax’s heels with a mere goal difference. So, in plain-speaking terms – it’s all for AZ to lose and everything for the other 2 teams to battle it out.
Of course there’s a lot to play for. Unlike the EPL and most leagues in Europe, the Dutch League has the system of a playoff into the Champions League Qualifying where the 2nd placed team to the 5th placed squad challenge each other for the lucrative Champions League. So, the 2nd placed team used to automatically qualify for it, but the KNVB thought to spice matters up a little by improvising this system. In the end, the 2nd placed team might have a lot to lose for, despite a season of consistency and strife.
It’s at this pretty picture that the Eredivisie of 29th April would paint.
AZ was drawn to play strugglers Excelsior Rotterdam. Ajax to play Willem II Tilburg who are also at the wrong end of the table. PSV would play SBV Vitesse Arnhem who fared slightly better than the other 2 strugglers.
PSV, to their own possible undoing, had their massive 11-point lead at the summit in late February to early March 2007 but found their team in all sorts of problems – a thrashing at Anfield, and the exit from the CLeague; injuries to key men like Alex Rodrigo Dias da Costa etc has seen their once comfortable perch come crashing to reality. So when FC Utrecht (a bogeyman for the bigger teams of the Dutch League) drew 1-1 with PSV last week, the final day would determine the champions of the Netherlands.
AZ and Ajax quietly stole in when PSV occupied themselves to the CLeague and have stolen the march on the rival when AZ suddenly opened up the 6 goal advantage at the summit. They would only have themselves to blame should they screw up royally at Rotterdam.
And that is what they did. They had their on-loan goalkeeper Boy Waterman sent off in as early as the 18th minute. Then AZ literally played catch-up with Excelsior, scoring replies to both goals. Then Johan Voskamp scored in the 90th minute for Excelsior and this time it is too late for AZ. But it was just masking the pain of defeat for AZ as they actually needed to secure a win to be crowned champions. Sad perhaps, but this is football. It’s not like Ajax or PSV being likely to whip their opponents by massive margins of 8-0 or 9-0. The free-scoring game of the day came courtesy of Roda JC Kerkrade who hit 7 past Heracles Almelo but that is a different proposition altogether. AZ needed just a slim victory but the title goes to PSV!
Ajax played their usual football, getting talented left wingback Urby Emanuelson to score a rather early goal to set the tempo. Then former PSV striker Klaas Jan-Huntelaar got his name on the score-sheet in the 67th minute. Bear in mind that all the games are played concurrently for the excitement factor! So, AZ are fighting to contain Excelsior and left Ajax free at the top of the table momentarily. So, it’s Ajax’s title to lose then.
But at the Philipsstadion in Eindhoven, another major drama is unfolding. With Ajax’s two goals up to the 67th minute, PSV is 4-1 up against Vitesse but it’s not good enough that both teams are level on goal difference as the final word goes to the team who scores the most goals, not the one conceding fewer.
Up stepped Oranje hero Philip Cocu to deliver the killer blow to the two pretenders to the throne by netting in the 77th minute. PSV are now top of the Eredivisie and that is what it should have been, having leading the league for some 151 days and opening up a gulf of 11 points at the top of the table!
So, what is there to surmise?
That AZ could blow away their chances and that Ajax were too cautious to go for the jugular and secure the title, which slipped their grasp so painfully?
Naturally, a PSV win is so sweet, but I was thinking something else altogether.
This…is life. The law of life; the rule of life. Nothing is to be taken for granted. Something may have been in your sturdy grasp and it’s only a matter of when as opposed to the question of how; but fate can play tricks and deal a crushing blow where it hurts. What I want to say is – success is just a fine line above failure. One moment of glory is not the guarantee of an extended run at the top. We could only try our best and leave everything to the heavens!
All is not lost for AZ and Ajax though. They still need to pick themselves up and challenge for the final European CLeague ticket. Obviously, only one will get through but they have only themselves to blame. The underdogs of the day proved to be the ones with the last laugh and the one who is the proverbial winner takes all. PSV were the underdogs and they won! Hail Ronald Koeman and his team of fighters from Philipsstadion!