Luck and the Dutch Cup (2): Lucky Ajax

For those of us who grew up with the FA Cup and its great romantic nature with endless replays, the third round in January, extensive all day coverage of the final etc, the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) comes as a bit of a shock. It is a competition which takes place in the middle of the week, matches are decided on the night – on penalties if necessary – and it is very much secondary to the main business of the league. This season’s competition continues this week with the big teams entering at the second round stage. Luck is always present in cup competitions but here it has historically played an even bigger role than in England, not least for Ajax.

Format advantageous for clubs in Europe
As I discussed in yesterday’s post, the KNVB Beker format used to provide a huge advantage to the bigger clubs as clubs playing in European competition were exempt from participation in the Dutch Cup until the last 16. This situation existed for seven seasons from 1999/2000 and, during this period, the competition was won just once by a club entering earlier than this (FC Twente in 2000/2001). FC Twente (2003/2004) and Willem II (2004/2005) were the only other teams in this period to even reach the final after starting the competition at an earlier stage. FC Utrecht were arguably the club to profit most from this, reaching the final three times in that period, a total which only PSV managed to match in those seven years. For Utrecht it was the simplest route to extend their participation in European football and the club and its fans took the competition very seriously.

Group phase removing fortune for minnows
Between 1994 and 2003, there was another situation which went some way to reduce the luck factor but removed much of the romance of the cup competition from the amateur clubs. The opening phase was played in groups generally containing two professional clubs and two amateur with the two professional clubs progressing to the last 32. They were joined there by the clubs playing in European competition before 1999. Unsurprisingly less than a handful of Eredivisie clubs were eliminated during this group phase which meant that the last 32 clubs were almost all professional.

Knockout and amateur clubs at home
In 2003, the group phase was replaced by knockout with 26 to 28 non-professional clubs meeting the Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie clubs from the last 64. The amateur clubs play this first hurdle at home and, if I have counted it properly, there have been 40 giantkillings (including four last night)  involving amateur clubs knocking out professionals in the Dutch Cup in the last 10 seasons (including this one). However, only five Eredivisie clubs – Roda JC (2003/2004), RBC Roosendaal (2005/2006), Vitesse (2008/2009), Heracles Almelo (2010/2011) and Excelsior (2011/2012) – have been eliminated by an amateur club. The great amateur cup fighters of recent seasons are current Sunday league champions Achilles ’29, who have knocked out five professional clubs in the last five years. They will do well to add to that total having been drawn against PSV.

Ajax the luckiest of all
However, the greatest piece of luck to ever befall a club in the KNVB Beker took place in 1970. Ajax won the competition that year despite being knocked out in the third round. In those days the Dutch FA (KNVB) only allowed professional clubs into the competition and the format meant that the third round had only 14 participants. This meant that the seven defeated teams at that stage went into a draw to be the ‘lucky loser’ and take the final quarter-final place. Ajax had lost 2-1 at AZ ’67 but were the lucky team to be reinstated and beat DWS, FC Twente and finally PSV to win the 1970 competition.

Given this evening’s match it would be remiss of me to avoid the 2001/2002 Cup final between Ajax and FC Utrecht. Scroll through to the 1:40 mark of the video below to see how Ajax made it 2-2 in the third minute of injury time.

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