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Title run-in: Big three in hunt again

Published: Friday 5 April 2002, 23.59CET
Traditional Eredivise rivals AFC Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven are battling for the title.
Published: Friday 5 April 2002, 23.59CET

Title run-in: Big three in hunt again

Traditional Eredivise rivals AFC Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven are battling for the title.

It has been over 20 years since a club other than AFC Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV Eindhoven won the Dutch Eredivisie. That monopoly is set to continue with the Netherlands' three leading sides again scrapping for the league title.

Dramatic finale
Ajax lead the way by five points from Feyenoord, with PSV a further two behind. Both of the chasing pair have two games in hand and the championship could well be heading for a dramatic finale on 5 May - the final day of the campaign.

Fragile lead
Several weeks ago it seemed nothing could stop the Amsterdam outfit, chasing their 28th league title, and their 20th since the formation of the Eredivisie, ending their four-year run without a championship. But defeat by SBV Vitesse threw the race wide open and, with both their rivals on lengthy unbeaten runs, their lead is looking fragile.

Fitness concern
Ajax, however, will feel they can win all four of their remaining games, with only one of those opponents, Dutch Cup finalists DOS Utrecht, entertaining hopes, albeit slim ones, of a UEFA Cup place through the league. Ajax met PSV on Tuesday in the other cup semi-final, although their chief concern currently is over the fitness of leading scorer Rafael van der Vaart.

Vital showdown
Feyenoord and PSV's games in hand, one of which will be this weekend, mean they should haul in Ajax. The Rotterdam club host sixth-placed NAC Breda, while struggling FC Groningen travelling to Eindhoven. But the crucial game for both is on Sunday week when they meet each other. Defeat for either side is likely to end their championship hopes and leave them concentrating on securing the top three finish needed for UEFA Champions League qualification.

Heerenveen danger
If Feyenoord are defeated at the Philips stadium, it will be imperative that they account for SC Heerenveen at home on 28 April. Fourth-placed Heerenveen currently lie just three points behind PSV - too far back to win the title, but well-placed to qualify for European football's blue-riband competition.

UEFA Cup ambition
Feyenoord will also have more than half an eye on the UEFA Cup. If Internazionale FC fail to beat them in the second leg of their semi-final then the Dutch side will have the rare honour of both staging and competing in the showpiece 8 May final.
 
Lowly opponents

PSV will be more confident of ensuring at least a Champions League berth, with none of their remaining opponents, bar Feyenoord, in the top half. Nevertheless, their final-day hosts, De Graafschap, may well need a win to avoid the relegation play-offs. Victory over Ajax in their forthcoming cup semi-final could also give them a useful psychological fillip in the title battle.

UEFA Cup hopes
Though Heerenveen, on 51 points, still have decent top three hopes, there is still a danger that they may not even qualify for the UEFA Cup. Fifth place is needed for the final slot, and with Vitesse on 50 and NAC a further point behind, a tight struggle is likely, though Foppe de Haan's side have the advantage of a game in hand. DOS, in seventh on 44, may secure a UEFA Cup place through their domestic knockout performance.

Last updated: 16/11/12 10.09CET

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