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Reunion with the wink Croat for Ajax: ‘Never proven that cheating was done’

If Ajax takes on Besiktas tonight in Istanbul, they can play freely in the knowledge that the next round of the Champions League has already been reached. Due to the enormous goal difference (+12), Ajax can even afford two defeats.

How different it was almost ten years ago, when Ajax stranded within sight of the harbour, precisely on goal difference. Tonight Ajax will meet one of the main characters of that bizarre evening again. The Croat Domagoj Vida of Besiktas has been called the ‘wink Croat’ since December 7, 2011. Then he was a player for Dinamo Zagreb.

A look back at an evening that was talked about for a long time.

Ideal situation after five duels

With one match to go, Ajax has eight points in 2011, three more than Olympique Lyonnais and a much better goal difference (+3) than the French (-4). Ajax plays at home against the already certain group winner Real Madrid, Lyon has to go to the already eliminated Dinamo Zagreb.

The French journalist Vincent Duluc is that evening in the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, as Lyon-watcher of L’Equipe. “I had little faith in it beforehand. Lyon had to score a lot of goals and Ajax had to lose at home against Real Madrid,” he says.

Theo Janssen, who played for Ajax at the time, also thought so. “I thought we would make it easy,” he says now.

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho leaves stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas and Pepe at home, among others. Ajax does not start badly, but falls behind in the 14th minute after a goal by José Callejon.

After that, a goal by both Nicolas Lodeiro and Miralem Sulejmani was wrongly disallowed for offside and on the other field Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Jerko Leko received his second yellow card within half an hour. But because it is still 0-0 in Croatia, nothing seems to be wrong yet.

It’s calm, nothing to worry about yet

In the 40th minute, commentator Frank Snoeks comes with good news. Dinamo Zagreb has come to 1-0 with ten men by the then only 17-year-old Mateo Kovacic.

In Amsterdam, however, the game seems to have already been played. Gonzalo Higuain makes it 0-2. Shortly afterwards, French striker Bafétimbi Gomis put the score at 1-1 at Dinamo Zagreb-Olympique Lyonnais. It is calm on both fields.

Duluc remembers well when he thought it was ready for Lyon. “It was 1-1 at half time, Lyon still had so many to make. The pessimistic feeling from before the game was still there at half time.”

According to Janssen, the Ajax player group did not receive anything during the break. “We were working on our own game, it was only after the game that I heard about Dinamo Zagreb-Olympique Lyon for the first time.”

The Croatian journalist Stjepan Bolag is also in the Maksimir stadium on that cold December evening. He is especially surprised at the 1-1 score, he now recalls. “That first half was actually the best half of that season.”

Totally wrong

After the break, things go completely wrong for Dinamo Zagreb. Lyon scores three goals in seven minutes and it is 1-4. It continues to storm in Zagreb after that. After Lisandro Lopez’s 1-5, Gomis wants to get the ball out of the goal as quickly as possible to score even more for Lyon, but he finds a Croat with straight blond hair on his way.

It’s Domagoj Vida. He turns around, presses the ball into Gomis’ hands and then it comes: a wink. The reassuring gesture from Vida to Gomis becomes the symbol of bribery for Ajax supporters. The wink Croat is born.

Duluc doesn’t think it was intentional: “The wink didn’t help. But cheating has never been proven. Maybe Gomis was joking or Vida said something about beautiful women, you just really don’t know.”

Bolag also refuses to believe that it is intentional. “I’ve known Vida and his family for years. Real sports people. They don’t do that,” he now emphasizes.

“In addition, he has been the motivator of the Croatian team for years. Everyone is praising him. That is not the kind of player that can be bribed. He was still young at the time, the team was not running well. But match fixing, no, really not. “

Ajax drips off

Lyon comes at 1-6 and in the end it even becomes 1-7. Real Madrid also makes the 0-3, Ajax drops off and finishes third in the group behind Lyon on goal difference. No eighth finals Champions League.

Soon the disappointment turns to anger. How can Zagreb let this happen? Analysts on Dutch television call the match suspicious. Janssen says that this thought was also alive in the selection.

“The summary came by, with that wink. We knew that something crazy, something strange was going on. But also that it will be difficult to prove if something has really been fixed. UEFA will never reverse something like that. “

Nevertheless, the remarkable result is reason enough for UEFA and the French gaming authority ARJEL to investigate illegalities surrounding the match. However, the investigation quickly comes to a dead end, as no evidence is ever found.

Own fault

Janssen does not regret it and thinks that Ajax has itself to blame. “If you depend on goal difference, it’s always your own fault. We should have finished it ourselves.”

While the Croatian journalist Bolag goes over to the order of the day, things remain restless for Duluc of L’Equipe for a long time to come. “I was euphoric, Lyon had done the impossible.”

On arrival in France there is a different mood. “The next day, when I was on a French TV show, they asked me if it wasn’t a good idea. That was also a bit the trend, Lyon is not a very popular club in France. Outside the Lyon fans was So I’m not really happy that Lyon went through to the next round, while it was actually a fantastic turnaround.”

Vida at Besiktas

The wink never hurt Vida’s career. He has already played almost 100 caps for Croatia and was in the World Cup final in 2018. His current club Besiktas is doing a little less this year – certainly in Europe; only a win over Ajax is enough to keep a minimal chance of a place in the Europa League.

And Ajax? Amsterdammers don’t have to worry. The knockout phase is a fact. Even Vida can no longer throw a spanner in the works.

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