Ajax just completed a double resurrection – something Jesus couldn’t even pull off. Their first resurrection comes in the form of an extensive process of returning to the apex of European football – a realm they dominated in the early ‘70s and mid-‘90s. By putting their faith back into the very thing that set them on top of the world twice in their history, their youth, Ajax has put together a squad worthy of Europe’s highest tier. Their second resurrection came just last night as they beat Real Madrid 4-1 – yes FOUR TO ONE – at the Santiago Bernabeu in Spain’s capital. No, their comeback doesn’t compare with Barca’s 6-1 thriller against PSG from a couple season’s ago, but it’s just as important and possibly even more satisfying.
Atletico Madrid fans will be most relieved by Ajax’s win, no longer having to live with the possibility of Real Madrid winning the Champions League in Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano – their brand new stadium that will host this season’s final. Their supporters flocked in droves to express their gratitude to the Dutch club.
Remember, this was the second leg of the Round of 16. To progress, Ajax had to escape the hole they dug for themselves losing 2-1 to Real Madrid in Amsterdam two weeks ago. Yes, Madrid barely won the reverse fixture but they were still heavy favorites to progress. For God’s sake, this team has won the Champions League three years running. To advance, not only would Ajax have to win, they would have to score at least twice to rule out Madrid’s two away goals. Even if Ajax scored twice, but Madrid scored once, their only routes to victory would be through an outright aggregate win or a win in the penalty shootout. Sergio Ramos’ actions at the end of the first leg were a testament to the Madrid confidence. The man was willing to deliberately commit a dirty foul, knowing the inevitable yellow card would suspend him for the second leg. Even without Madrid’s captain at the helm, Ajax had a mountain to climb if they had any desire to reach the quarterfinals.
Ajax, however, began their climb at a relentless sprint. Channeling the spirit of the total-footballing squads that preceded them, Ajax attacked Madrid for the entirety of the 90 minutes. That being said, Madrid provided the Dutch team with many chances as a result of their shoddy, Ramos-less defending.
Just seven minutes into the match, Madrid lost possession in their own half, exposing themselves to their opponents' blistering attack. The goal was inevitable.
Ten minutes later, Dusan Tadic evolved into Johan Cruyff, tearing through Madrid’s midfield with a mesmerizing run before hitting an inch-perfect through ball to assist David Neres’s goal.
Though Ajax ended the half on top, leading 3-2 on aggregate, they had no intentions of defending for the following 45 minutes. After all, Madrid’s attack that had struck the post twice in the first half had been defanged. Both Lucas Vázquez and Vinícius Jr. departed in tears after picking up injuries.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, Tadic cemented his performance as the best of his career with a North-Korean missile of a shot from the edge of the box. After reviewing an out-of-bounds call in Ajax’s build-up to the goal, the referee upheld Tadic’s strike. After assisting both of the opening goal’s, Tadic delivered the final hammer of the wooden stake into the bleach-white heart of Real Madrid.
In the 70th minute, Marco Asensio’s tight finish put Madrid back into contention, but only for two minutes. In the 72nd minute, Lasse Schöne stunned not only the laws of physics but also everyone at the Bernabeu with the most beautiful goal of the day. Taking a free kick from the side of Madrid’s box, Schöne curled a shot over Courtois and into the top-right of the Blanco goal.
The Madridistas cried, and the world celebrated. At last, the Champions League trophy will not be serenaded around the Bernabeu or thrust into the air by Florentino Perez. This has been a terrible year for Real Madrid and, for once, they are not going to get away with it. Real must address the parasite at the heart of their club that has been masked by years of legitimate success. But this was an inevitable collapse that both Ronaldo and Zidane foresaw and that spurred them both to jump ship before it was too late. Madrid will be back. When, however, and in what form, no one knows for now.
If you take anything away from Ajax’s brutal quartering of Real Madrid, however, it should be this – Ajax is back. Not only were they captained by the 19-year-old wonderkid Matthijs De Ligt, but Dusan Tadic, Andre Onana, David Neres, and Barca’s Frenkie De Jong put the Dutch club’s talent on full display. Tonight, their squad showcased why Ajax will never cease to produce great players that, when pieced together in the right system, can play the most astounding and beautiful football in the world.