CAPE TOWN - For the last few weeks, every week we’ve been saying it’s a big week for Ajax Cape Town. Well, forget about all those weeks that have gone before; this, without doubt, is the biggest week. In fact, let me re-phrase that: this is the biggest week, the biggest game, in the history of the club.
In short, when the Cape side host Kaizer Chiefs in the final fixture of the PSL season at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, only victory will suffice. Lose, and they will have to negotiate a tricky promotion/playoff campaign against two NFD sides - and, there, they run the risk of being relegated to the lower-tier league. And that, really, would be disastrous for football in the Mother City.
Established amid much hype and expectation in 1999, Ajax have, to be brutally honest, flattered to deceive over the last few years. Off the field, they remain a trendsetting club, their commitment to youth development is admirable and, as a brand, they are always fresh and innovative.
Unfortunately, on the field, things haven’t gone too well. Now, after yet another disappointing season, they are in the worst position they’ve ever been. Mired second-from-bottom on the league standings, they need a win over Chiefs to secure their top-flight status.
But, as Ajax this week prepare for the most important 90 minutes of their lives, for every player in the squad, for coach Muhsin Ertugral and his technical staff, the point to remember is that all is not lost. They’ve had a torrid season, but they’ve been able to emerge from the nightmare with a shot at redemption.
One game, one win, and they’re safe. Can they do it? Of course, they can. This is football - anything is possible. Ajax’s form at home has been superb and it’s on the back of that optimism that they can go into Saturday’s Chiefs clash with confidence.
It will be a real cauldron at the Green Point venue on Saturday - Chiefs are just as keen to put all the bad press behind them - and Ertugral has to ensure that Ajax have a sound, solid game plan backed by players able to withstand the pressure of the occasion.
Here’s the game plan. A clean sheet is important. Young goalkeeper Jody February will be in the firing line and he needs to be at his best. As long as Ajax don’t concede, they will always have a chance to score at the other end - that is a given.
Even more vital, don’t give possession away unnecessarily; Chiefs are a side that will clinically punish any such lapses. Fight for every ball, close the spaces, don’t allow the opposition to play and, above all, wear the jersey with pride.
When it comes to defending set-pieces, focus, focus and focus again; this has been Ajax’s Achilles heel and, need it be said, it’s an area of play that Chiefs are deadly at exploiting. And finally, do not - I repeat - do not squander scoring opportunities: it’s likely that Ajax won’t get all that many chances, so when it comes, they have to make the most of it.
If the Urban Warriors want a glimpse of what the scenario entails, here’s a look at two examples of what happened to neighbours Santos: In 1998, Santos staged an inspired late fightback to avoid relegation, finishing third-from-bottom; four years later, they won the PSL title. In 2012, Santos were relegated from the PSL; today, they are struggling in the regional Second Division.
Which example do Ajax want to emulate? Their performance on Saturday should give us an indication.