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Ajax braced to hold off title hopefuls

Published: Thursday 4 August 2011, 9.40CET
PSV Eindhoven and FC Twente will lead the resistance to AFC Ajax when the Dutch season kicks off, with Frank de Boer noting: "When you are Ajax, everyone wants to beat you."
by Berend Scholten
Ajax braced to hold off title hopefuls
Ajax celebrate winning their 30th Dutch title ©Getty Images
Published: Thursday 4 August 2011, 9.40CET

Ajax braced to hold off title hopefuls

PSV Eindhoven and FC Twente will lead the resistance to AFC Ajax when the Dutch season kicks off, with Frank de Boer noting: "When you are Ajax, everyone wants to beat you."

Seasoned observers will spot the difference with the new AFC Ajax kit straight away; where once there were two stars under the club badge, there are now three, with the club having added the third in honour of winning their 30th title in 2010/11.

As champions, we are the team to beat, although when you are Ajax, everyone wants to beat you anyway
Ajax coach Frank de Boer

There are no additional stars on offer as Frank de Boer's side kick off the new season at De Graafschap on Sunday, but the 41-year-old – who won the championship in his first season in charge – does not need any extra incentive to keep his side hungry. "We try to improve every year; individually, as a team, as coaches," said the 112-times capped defender.

Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg's departure for AS Roma has left a hole to be filled in De Boer's squad, but former Netherlands Under-21 No1 Kenneth Vermeer proved to be an able deputy at the end of last season. Ajax have also signed last term's Eredivisie layer of the Year, midfielder Theo Janssen, 30, from FC Twente, along with AZ Alkmaar's Kolbeinn Sigthórsson.

"When you sign players, you do that to improve," explained De Boer. "An older experienced player like Theo is very important for our young team. As champions, we are the team to beat, although when you are Ajax, everyone wants to beat you anyway. I expect we will fight for the title again, but PSV Eindhoven made some good signings and Twente remain as solid as ever, so it will be difficult, but I think we can do it."

PSV have now gone three years without a title since a run of four in a row ended in 2008, and Hungarian forward Balász Dzsudzsák's move to FC Anzhi Makhachkala has robbed them of a key figure. However, ahead of their first game against AZ, they have brought in some of the Eredivisie's top young players, such as Feyenoord's Georginio Wijnaldum and the FC Utrecht pair of Kevin Strootman and Belgian forward Dries Mertens.

Twente's most significant signing, meanwhile, looks to be coach Co Adriaanse, with the former Ajax, AZ, FC Porto and FC Salzburg tactician succeeding Michel Preud'homme, now in Saudi Arabia with al-Shabab. The 64-year-old has won titles in Portugal and Austria, but the Dutch championship shield remains a glaring absence on his coaching CV. The stars may be lining up in Ajax's favour, but Adriaanse would love to deny his hometown side.

Last updated: 04/08/11 11.55CET

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