Heartbreaking loss, two words that describe how my soccer team Ajax (Amsterdam) lost in the semi final of the Champions League today. The opposing team Tottenham Hotspur scored the winning and decisive goal literally in the final seconds of the match, coming back from down 3-0. If Ajax had held on for 20 more seconds they would’ve gone to the final against Liverpool, who beat Barcelona yesterday in an equally stunning match. It wasn’t meant to be…
In the 70s Ajax invented total football, which is still aspired to be played by many teams today, and won 3 Champions League titles in a row with Johan Cruyff. In my day, I was lucky enough to see Ajax win the trophy in 1995. The team at the time was a complete revelation without big names accept for an old Frank Rijkaard. Yet they stunned the biggest team in the world at the time – AC Milan – in the group stage, and then went on to beat them in the Champions League final in Vienna. I watched every single minute of every game, I can still name every single player, tell you what the scores were in the group and knockout stages, in short a waste of memory space is what my Pops would call that. Since then Ajax got close to winning again the next year in 1996 losing in penalty kicks to Juventus, but after that it lost all their best players, and never came back to the same level in the Champions League. The team actually went into total chaos a few years ago with numerous changes at the management level, coaching turnovers, acquiring mediocre players, etc. But somehow they got it all back on the rails, and started investing in some good players again. And of course their strategy of generating new young homegrown players really paid out. They had to play three qualifying games to get to the group stage for the Champions League this season, then they played previous winners Bayern Munich and Benfica in the group stages, and qualified for the knockout stages in which they unexpectedly beat two of the current biggest teams in Real Madrid and Juventus. So losing in the final seconds in the semis is just a sad outcome. But who knows, maybe they can retain some good players, rebuild and get back next year or at least in the next few years.
The photo here is showing the actual trophy of the last time that AC Milan won the Champions League trophy in 2003, on display at the museum at the San Siro stadium in Milan. I haven’t gone to many soccer games in my life, just two national team games and a handful of Boca and River games in Argentina, but that’s it. I just think the experience on tv is better. And over the years, living in the US, it’s definitely gotten tougher to follow European soccer too. But the Champions League and national team soccer are definitely events I make time for. Anyways, the museum was really fun to visit. Lots of trophies, shirts, old images, and of course lots of memorabilia from the days that van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard were playing there winning trophy after trophy.
For Ajax I’m hoping they’ll get another chance in the Champions League, it’s just so tough with all the big teams with the big money, almost unfair which is why today’s loss hurts even more. Sometimes I wish I could be like my Pops, who couldn’t give a sh*t about soccer. When Robben hit Casilla’s toe in the World Cup final of 2010, missing the goal by an inch which led to Holland missing out on winning the biggest soccer trophy of them all, Pop just said “miss as good as mile…” – must be nice… (July 2005)