For 20 minutes Ajax attacked Real Madrid and then they did something risky: they attacked them again. It proved to be once too often. Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema gave Madrid a 3-0 victory that means progress from Group D already looks a formality but it was the ability to launch swift counter-attacks, led by Xabi Alonso's diagonal deliveries crisscrossing the pitch, that was most striking. Ajax certainly had been struck with three devastating blows.
José Mourinho was nowhere to be seen as he served the final game of his Uefa ban. Wherever he was watching, he would have been delighted with the way the game ended. Ultimately, Madrid were comfortable; even the missed chances – and they came for Kaká who had one clear opportunity and appealed for a penalty before being replaced to a standing ovation on 75 minutes – mattered little. At the other end, Christian Eriksen's shot into the side-netting would not have unduly concerned Mourinho or the coach-for-the-night Aitor Karanka.
The start had been a different matter. Ajax are a young, inexperienced side. The full-back Gregory van der Wiel has played more Champions League games than anyone else and this was only his seventh appearance in the competition. Small wonder, then, that their manager, Frank De Boer, had insisted that the key would be whether his players had the nerve to attack Madrid at the Bernabéu.
It turned out that they did. That also turned out not to be the key at all.
When Jan Vertonghen looked like he would get away, Rafael Varane was quick into the challenge and a moment later Iker Casillas made a sharp save that drew applause. He was soon making another, easier stop. In the meantime, there was even time for Madrid to give a debut, at last, to summer signing Hamit Altintop.
Ajax were smooth in possession, Siem de Jong, Eriksen and Miralem Sulejmani moving the ball neatly. They were moving in dangerous areas, too.
Alvaro Arbeloa had to launch a wonderful challenge on Sulejmani near the penalty spot. De Jong played a swift one-two and, dashing into the area, couldn't quite reach the bouncing ball with Casillas smothering him. And then, Sulejmani was dashing though the middle. In front of him, De Jong was sprinting into the space behind Madrid's advancing defence. The through-ball was stopped by Ricardo Carvalho's hand. Mark Clattenburg gave him a yellow card; only the colour was debatable.
But while Madrid were seeing little of the ball, even prompting a few timid whistles from the Bernabéu crowd, when they did get it there was an edge to their play that Ajax do not have. And Alonso was finding his range – there is little need to seek out team-mates alongside him when he is so adept at finding them 70 yards away.
Madrid are rarely more dangerous than when they are being attacked and so it proved. Ajax blinked and missed them. A perfect counter-attack at astonishing speed opened the Ajax defence and opened the scoring. The ball was worked through Ronaldo, Kaká, Mezut Ozil, Benzema, and then back to Ronaldo, who came screeching into the area for a first time finish. It was the 22nd minute and Ronaldo's 29th Champions League goal.
Madrid had already fired a warning shot just before when Benzema wasted a glorious chance and it was not long before they had a second. Alonso's ball speared its way across the pitch for Ronaldo, who killed it instantly, and found Kaká. The Brazilian's low, cleanly struck shot flew into the corner.
Ajax's moment had passed and early in the second half Benzema made it three, completing a move built by Arbeloa and Kaká and started by Alonso. "Hombre, claro" as they say. But of course.