Dusan Tadic inspires Ajax to stunning defeat of champions Real Madrid

Real Madrid have been European Champions for 1,012 days, but their time is up. In 88 days, the 2019 final will be held just 14km away at the home of rivals Atlético, but for the first time in three years they will not be there. In a single week at the Bernabéu they have been knocked out of the Copa del Rey, the league, and the competition they made their own. When the end came, it was brutal. It was also brilliant. Ajax came and tore them to bits, scoring four goals, each more impressive than the last.

This is the third time Ajax have won here in this competition, after 1973 and 1995. The last two times they won the European Cup; few would expect that now, those days long gone, but on this evidence that romantic idea may not be so misplaced.

Madrid are bad, it is true. Their “shit season” in Dani Carvajal’s words, is over in March, thanks to three home defeats in seven with an aggregate score of 8-1. But it is also true that Ajax are very good. Goals from Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, Dusan Tadic and Lasse Schöne were the consequence of a collective superiority that was startling and they are deservedly through: too fast, too incisive, too well organised for a team that is disintegrating, a generation that has come to a close.

Santi Solari said afterwards “so much had happened”, and he was right. Madrid suffered three injuries, Lucas Vázquez and Vinícius withdrawn within half an hour and Gareth Bale limping through the final minutes. They also hit the post twice. Nacho was sent off in added time. And there was a five-minute wait for the VAR to allow Ajax’s third goal – the kind of delay that makes technology more a hinderance than a help. And yet sometimes for all the analysis, all the detail, there is a simple truth and that was the case here: Ajax were better than Madrid.

Somehow, Ajax lost 2-1 in Amsterdam, the chance to progress seemingly escaping them against team that has shown a remarkable ability to prevail. No team has ever gone through after losing the first leg 2-1 at home and Sergio Ramos considered Madrid’s passage so certain that he sought a deliberate yellow card and a suspension. That decision looks daft now; he looked on from the stands as he watched Ajax win in a manner that was entirely incontestable.

Ajax knew they needed two and if the first leg had suggested they could get them, even the most optimistic would not have expected to get them so soon. Six minutes had gone when Toni Kroos, that “diesel-powered tractor” as Bernd Schuster had called him, had the ball taken from him. Tadic escaped up the right and pulled back for Ziyech to score with a finish as tidy as the move had been. Madrid were passive; Ajax were aggressive, the precision at pace impressive, the mastery of space even more so.

Real Madrid have been knocked out of the Champions League for the first time since they lost the 2015 semi-final to Juventus.
Real Madrid have been knocked out of the Champions League for the first time since they lost the 2015 semi-final to Juventus. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Ajax took control; Madrid, so vulnerable, lost it entirely, the early sense that this was slipping away already shared in the stands and increasing when a superb second goal arrived. Tadic performed a roulette, away from Casemiro, and slipped a perfectly weighted pass into the area. Neres, who a few minutes earlier had bamboozled Carvajal with a ludicrously brilliant piece of skill, took it round Courtois and finished.

The game had not even reached the 20th minute and Ajax had two. More might have followed in the first half, another wonderful pass from Tadic sending Neres through only for his lob over Courtois to drift wide. The way that came soon felt familiar, Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Schöne picking Madrid’s players off. Ajax were dominant, Madrid desperate.

A wonderful ball from Daley Blind released Tadic, whose shot hit Courtois’s legs, and the Belgian made a sharp save from Ziyech. Madrid were overwhelmed, which is not to say that they had no opportunities. André Onana saved from Vázquez and they twice struck the frame. Raphaël Varane’s header thudded against the bar in the fourth minute before the tsunami started rolling and Bale hit the near post. Vinícius’s injury had come as he shot.

A second-half reaction, starting in the stands where roars replaced the resignation, did not last long. Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema had efforts but Ajax managed this marvellously. Van de Beek was denied by Courtois; Ziyech hit wide; and barely seconds after seeing Benzema step inside him and bed a shot just wide, Noussair Mazraoui was at the other end smashing into the side-netting. He then slid in to stop the ball going out and Ajax ran again, the ball worked to Tadic who curled into the top corner.

Their Ajax fans roared and then, like everyone, fell silent. Felix Brych, the referee, had his finger in his ear. The wait for the VAR was long, Brych pacing, listening, Madrid’s fate in the balance. Eventually, he pointed to the centre circle: goal! Asensio pulled one back but this was done, Schöne scoring a magnificent bending free kick from near the touchline that went over Courtois. Benzema slipped at the very end and a worse miss came from Ziyech, but it did not matter. Ajax had enough, Ajax had four.

Twitter: follow us at @guardian_sport

Facebook: like our football and sport pages

Instagram: our favourite photos, films and stories

YouTube: subscribe to our football and sport channels