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Ajax stunned by amateurs Hercules in shock Dutch Cup loss

Mats Grotenbreg of USV Hercules celebrates the 3-2 during the second round of the KNVB Cup match between USV Hercules (am) and Ajax in stadium Galgenwaard on 21 december 2023 in Utrecht, Netherlands

Mats Grotenbreg of USV Hercules celebrates the 3-2 during the second round of the KNVB Cup match between USV Hercules (am) and Ajax in stadium Galgenwaard on 21 december 2023 in Utrecht, Netherlands

Ajax suffered one of the worst defeats in their history as they were eliminated from the KNVB Cup by fourth-tier Dutch club USV Hercules.

Ajax have won the competition a record 20 times but were stunned by the amateur side — who are 10th in the fourth division of Dutch football — in the last 32 stage of the competition.

The amateurs went 2-0 up before the Amsterdammers scored twice in the last ten minutes to level it before Mats Grotenberg scored a dramatic late winning goal in the 93rd minute.

Ajax manager John Van’t Schip rotated his side to give youngster Tristan Gooijer his first start and gave Georgian big-money signing Georges Mikautadze a rare start.

The match was played in the Galgenwaard, the stadium of FC Utrecht, due to the amateur side’s facilities not being up to the required level.

Hercules took the lead after 16 minutes. Jordi Paulina outsmarted the Ajax defender before playing the ball to Tim Pieters in the box, who knocked it home.

Ajax created several chances after the goal, with Mikautadze, Akpom, and Amourricho van Axel Dongen missing opportunities to score.

Pieters showed them how it’s done after 65 minutes played. The winger cut inside on the edge of the area before firing his shot into the far corner.

Shanon Carmelia knocked a Kenneth Taylor shot off the line a few minutes later. They kept the record Eredivisie champions out for most of the second half until Brian Brobbey found the net in the 83rd minute after midfielder Benjamin Tahirovic played a great pass through to him.

The fairytale seemed over when English striker Chuba Akpom knocked an Anton Gaeei cross home from close range after Brobbey had dropped deep to play a terrific pass through to the Dane.

Mats Grotenberg was the unlikely hero in the 93rd minute. A free kick was headed down to the defender who had come off the bench to knock it home and write his name in history.

The four-time European champions went 10 matches without a win in all competitions at one stage, their longest-ever run without a victory.

The Amsterdam giants have picked up 20 points in a subsequent eight-match unbeaten run to see them rise to fifth in the standings, but they remain 23 points behind league leaders PSV Eindhoven.

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