Ibrahimovic – Ajax vs NAC – 2004

12 10 2010

Goals … And The Stories Behind Them …

You don’t need me to tell you that Zlatan Ibrahimovic can be a difficult character. But back in 2004, after a heated international ‘friendly’ encounter between Holland and Sweden, the tension was palpable.

Ibrahimovic had been in a particularly antagonistic mood in that friendly – strangely reserving his aggression for his own team-mates. Zlatan targeted Rafael van der Vaart, who was forced off injured, and even managed to kick John Heitinga in the back in a curious display that left the mercurial Swede the talk of Amsterdam once again.

It presented a problem for Ajax coach Ronald Koeman when his players returned from international duty. Not only did he have to integrate Ibrahimovic into the dressing room after his midweek petulance but, with van der Vaart now injured, he would also be forced to back track and finally grant Wesley Sneijder the start he had demanded just weeks earlier. The young Wesley had publicly sworn at Koeman when scoring after coming on as a substitute in a recent game.

In short, as so often down the years, the Ajax dressing room was divided.

As a result of this infighting, the visitors NAC Breda may well have felt there was something in the game for them and this was seemingly confirmed when they took the lead early on. However, Ibrahimovic soon equalised and, with Steven Pienaar impressing in midfield, the home side were soon in full control. After an own goal and a Sneijder free-kick, Heitinga made it 4-1 and the match was won – but the best was yet to come.

I’ll leave it to Volksrant reporter Willem Vissers to describe:

“A goal like a symphony, composed by a beanpole who sometimes plays blatantly out of tune, but is also able to produce the most delicate sounds (…) dribbling, turning, squeezing past everything yellow and black, while the buzz inside the stadium builds up. What’s happening here? He slips past Mendes da Silva, then beats Koning twice, then Stam, then Mendes who’s giving it another try. He drives the ball forward with the outside of his foot, then the inside, he drags it along with the sole of his boot. The street artist from Malmö is in total control here, the tall footballer with unique skills. After one last touch with his right he pushes the ball under goalkeeper Schollen, lightning-quick: right-left, tschak-tschak. The crowd at the ArenA, that sometimes takes in a game of football so passively, springs to its feet after the outstanding goal, clapping, cheering. People fall into each other’s arms and slam each other on the shoulders. This is Ajax. This is the football they want to see.”
[translation courtesy of Ajax-USA]

Watch it for yourself below. Wonderful stuff.

P.S. Rafael van der Vaart’s face while looking on from the stands is worth a look too (0:37).

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