Ajax spent the best part of Sunday in the skies. The current national champions kicked off 2013 with a long flight to South America. One week of (mostly) training awaits them in Rio de Janeiro. The highlight will be a practice match against Vasco de Gama on Sunday.
Amsterdam, Schiphol airport. 10:25 am. New Year's greetings and handshakes are exchanged, and Frank de Boer's selection is ready for take-off to Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, roughly 9570 kilometers away, the Ajax players will start to prepare for the competition's second half. Only Toby Alderweireld has stayed at home, ill. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Ryan Babel are a part of De Boer's elite troupe. Flight KL 0705 is airborne at 11:10. The winter break is over; the hunt for the next national championship is on!
At around eleven o'clock, KLM's Boeing 777-200 soars above the clouds. Once the European coastline has disappeared, televisions, tablets and smartphones help pass the time high above the Atlantic Ocean. Headphones, books, newspapers also serve as entertainment on the long intercontinental flight. Only the white Ajax polo shirts betray the real purpose of this trip to Rio. Mongeral is poised above the familiar AEGON logo on the Ajax player's chests. Mongeral is the Brazilian daughter of Ajax's head sponsor. Just as they did in the 2012 winter break, which took place in Sao Paolo, Ajax is once again at work for the sponsor's brand recognition on Brazilian soil.
Rio de Janeiro, airport. 7.34p.m. (local time). The flight from Amsterdam to Rio de Janeiro was impeccable. Once the plane has landed, Ajax goes back in time. Due to the three hour time difference, everyone resets their watches. After that, they head to the luggage belt to await the long stream of football bags, materials suitcases and other luggage from Amsterdam. When a few suitcases tumble off the belt, Frank de Boer doesn't hesitate. The coach simply leaps over the belt to lend a helping hand. The coach places the fallen suitcases back onto the belt, and the stream of luggage resumes. The Ajax coach casually returns among his players to wait for his own bag. Once the head coach has retrieved his belongings from the belt, it's time for some photo opportunities with several Brazilian football fans.
Thirty minutes later, as the selection players and staff drive toward the hotel in the touring bus, the training week has officially started. It will be a week packed with practices, some of which will take place at the famous Copacabana beaches. In addition to a clinic, a visit to the favelas is also on the agenda. It promises to be an interesting, great, and useful training week.
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