A Good Omen For The Flying Dutchmen
It was supposed to be a comeback night for Alyaksandr Khaskevich’s side. Haven suffered a 3-1 first leg defeat at the Amsterdam Arena, Dynamo Kyiv faced an uphill task of overturning a two-goal deficit on home soil.
On an uneventful night of football at the NSC Olimpiyskiy, The Ukrainian Premier League side threw everything at Ajax, but the four-time European champions held off Khaskevich’s men, securing their two-goal advantage in a 0-0 draw, and confirming their place in this year’s UEFA Champions’ League group stages.
In Amsterdam, goals from Van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic helped the Eredivisie giants seal off a comprehensive win in the first leg of a tricky play-off encounter, and ultimately, the home triumph proved the difference for Erik Ten Hag’s men.
The Road to Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano will be meandering and complicated, but Ajax Amsterdam’ can draw confidence from a decent streak of results en route a group stage draw that has them locked in the same bracket as Bayern, Benfica and AEK Athens.
In the second and third qualifying round, The Sons of the Gods easily dispatched Sturm Graz (5-1 aggregate) and Standard Liege (5-2 aggregate), eventually cruising to a 3-1 aggregate win over Russian Premier League side Dynamo Kiev, perhaps, the most convincing of all their qualifying victories.
Away from the Olimpiyskiy and the streets of Amsterdam, there were celebrations of similar magnitude at Philips Stadion, after Steven Bergwijn, Luuk de Jong and the incredible Chucky Lozano fired PSV to an emphatic 3-0 victory over BATE Borisov, sealing Champions’ League group stage qualification on a 6-2 aggregate.
PSV Eindhoven fortunately or unfortunately find themselves sandwiched in a group of death, but they can draw inspiration from their memorable run in 2004/05, when Mark van Bommel captained The Peasants to the Semi-finals, narrowly losing out to Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan on away goals.
Thirteen years on, after a one-year absence, the Dutch legend will be leading the Eindhoven club back to the big stage, only this time, he will be wearing a suit on the sidelines, not the captain’s armband in the middle of the park.
UEFA Champions League qualification for Van Bommel’s side also culminated with the signing of Central midfielder Erick Gutierrez from Pachucha. The left-footed Mexican –who has already received a call-up ahead of Mexico’s upcoming friendlies against Uruguay and the United States– adds quality and depth to a PSV midfield employing the services of Pablo Rosario, Jorrit Hendrix and Gaston Pereiro.
PSV Eindhoven have been more consistent in recent years, but as Europe’s elite competition returns in September, Ajax Amsterdam will be making their first appearance since 2014, when they finished third behind Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, progressed to the Europa League, made it through the Round of 32, but crashed out in the Last-16 on away goals to Ukrainian side Dnipro.
Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven are to the Netherlands what Juventus, Roma and Milan are to Italian football, and perhaps, the significance of their headline-grabbing return to Champions League football goes beyond the Eredivisie.
Between 2010 and 2014, The Dutch National team enjoyed memorable World Cup campaigns in South Africa and Brazil, with at least 50% of its first team(s) passing through Ajax Amsterdam or PSV Eindhoven –A true testament to how both Eredivisie giants have indirectly helped shape the KNVB’s successes in recent history.
Haven qualified for the last three World Cup tournaments, a disappointing qualifying campaign meant the Dutch shared the same fate with Chile, Italy and USMNT as far as Russia 2018 was concerned.
The appointment of Ronald Koeman signals a new dawn for The Flying Dutchmen as they seek to rebuild and dream again under the former Everton manager, but the return of Ajax and PSV to Europe’s elite competition could be a good omen for the Northern Europeans
While experienced Ajax duo Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Daley Blind have become familiar faces for the National side, Champions league football will offer the likes of –PSV’s Luuk De Jong, Jorrit Hendrix, Derrick Luckassen, and Ajax’s Donny van de Beek, Matthijs de Ligt, and Frenkie de Jong –increased chances of integration into Ronald Koeman’s plans as the Barcelonista continues to assemble a new generation of Oranje army ahead of Euro 2020.
Luuk de Jong’s decision to stick with PSV amid interests from Barcelona bodes well for the Eindhoven club, and even better for the Flying Dutchmen who can benefit from the beastly brilliance of a dyed-in-the-wool Eredivisie poacher.
The PSV captain is another exceptionally blessed striker who’s come through the famed Dutch youth system and belongs to a charmed generation of homegrown forwards –AS Roma’s Justin Kluivert is another one of those who could form a strike partnership with the Ajax man in the Koeman era.
For Ajax, Klaas Jan Huntelaar has notched six goals in nine appearances thus far this season. The Voor-Drempt veteran forward looks to be rolling back the years and at 35, Champions League football could be the extra motivation he needs to perform beyond the peak of his powers, inspiring the next generation of Netherland forwards who can help break the Dutch jinx on the international stage.
It’s been a while since the Netherlands made it to a major tournament, and it’s also been a while since Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven both made it to the Champions’ League in the same season. The Eredivisie rivals may walk different paths on the road to Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano, but their charming return to Europe’s elite competition could be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for the Flying Dutchmen.
It may not be much light, but perhaps – through the guidance of new head coach Ronald Koeman – it contributes to beating the darkness that has crippled Dutch football in recent years.