Kings of Europe no more. Real Madrid’s Champions League reign is over. More than 1,000 days since winning the first of three consecutive European titles, Real Madrid unprecedented era of dominance ended with a whimper when the Spanish giant was stunned 4-1 by Ajax at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday.
The humiliating loss meant Madrid was eliminated 5-3 on aggregate in the round of 16, leaving the club looking at a trophy-less season in its first campaign since mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus.
"We were not going to win the Champions League forever," said Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez, who was sent off in the final minutes of the game. "Reigns eventually come to an end. Something like this was going to happen sooner or later."
In the end, the club renowned for assembling its team with expensive "Galactico" signings was undone by a club centered around a core of homegrown young talents.
Ajax, which is enjoying a resurgence thanks to young stars like Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, needed less than 20 minutes to reverse a 2-1 deficit from the first leg, with Hakim Ziyech scoring in the seventh minute and David Neres in the 18th.
Dusan Tadic, who set up both first-half goals, added to the lead in the 62nd, and Lasse Schone sealed the Dutch team’s triumph with a free kick from a tight angle in the 72nd. Marco Asensio had pulled the hosts closer a couple of minutes earlier.
"We always believed we had a chance, and we had 4,000 fans here who believed as well," Ajax coach Erick ten Hag said. "Over the two matches we definitely deserve to progress to the next round."
In Tuesday’s other game, Tottenham won 1-0 at Borussia Dortmund to go through 4-0 on aggregate, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 2011.
Ajax was playing in the last 16 for the first time since 2006 and will be making its first quarterfinal appearance since 2003
For Madrid, it was the fourth straight home loss in all competitions, something that hadn’t happened since 2004, and capped one of the worst weeks in the club’s recent history. The team was coming off two demoralizing home losses to archrival Barcelona _ 1-0 in the Spanish league and 3-0 in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey.
Out of the Copa del Rey and 12 points behind Barcelona in the Spanish league, the Champions League was Real Madrid’s only realistic chance of winning anything this season.
"We are sad. We are hurt," Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari said. "We gave our best but it wasn’t enough. All we can do is come back tomorrow and keep working hard. The season continues and we have to keep playing."
Madrid hadn’t lost a Champions League knockout tie since the 2015 semifinal against Juventus. It had reached at least the semifinals in eight straight seasons and hadn’t failed to make it past the last 16 since 2010.
In the group stage this season, it had lost 3-0 to CSKA Moscow at the Bernabeu for what had been its worst ever European loss.
Madrid was without suspended captain Sergio Ramos, who was sanctioned by UEFA for deliberately earning a late booking late in the first leg, and the defense struggled from the start on Tuesday. The attack also faltered again, with the forwards missing chance after chance.
The Bernabeu crowd went silent early when Ziyech opened the scoring after a breakaway that started with a run by Tadic through the right flank. The already nervous crowd was stunned again about 10 minutes later when Neres added to the lead from close range after Tadic got past a few Real Madrid defenders with a run from near the midfield, clearing Casemiro with a superb spin move and dribble. Neres beat Luka Modric to Tadic’s through ball and went past Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois before finding the open net.
Things got worse for Madrid as both Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior had to be substituted before halftime because of injuries _ being replaced by Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio.
Vinicius Junior was hurt at the end of a long run in which he nearly opened the scoring for Madrid. The young Brazilian appeared to be crying as he made his way back to the bench.
Bale struck the woodwork with a shot over Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana just before halftime.
Raphael Varane had hit the crossbar with a header less than five minute into the match, and he also missed from close range later in the first half. Asensio and Nacho Fernandez also wasted opportunities as Madrid’s lack of scoring touch was costly again.
Although the hosts kept pressing, it was Ajax that kept threatening the most throughout the game, missing several chances to increase its lead.
Tadic got his goal with a left-footed shot from inside the area, which was upheld after a lengthy video review to see whether the ball had gone out of play before Ajax launched a quick counterattack. Asensio gave his team a glimmer of hope in the 70th, but it was snuffed out just two minutes later when Schone’s curling free kick from the left flank beat Courtois and sealed the stunning triumph.
Everything has gone against us’, says Madrid’s Carvajal
Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal said he had never felt so awful after the triple Champions League holders were booted out of the competition with a humiliating 4-1 home defeat to Ajax Amsterdam on Tuesday. Real, who had won four of the last five editions of the competition, are almost certain to end the campaign empty handed, having been knocked out of the Copa del Rey in the semi-finals by Barcelona last week and having fallen 12 points behind the Catalans in La Liga.
"I think I have never felt this awful, I do not know how to explain it," Carvajal said after Ajax completed a 5-3 aggregate victory.
"This week everything has gone against us. Tonight we cannot look for excuses. Our opponents were better and they deserved to go through. We have to show our faces and not hide, our season has been a piece of shit."
Real, whose captain Sergio Ramos was suspended after intentionally getting a yellow card in the first leg, conceded two early goals as Hakim Ziyech and David Neres scored for the rampant visitors, who had also dominated the first match despite losing.
The outstanding Dusan Tadic made it 3-0 with a thumping strike in the second half and although Marco Asensio pulled a goal back for Real, Lasse Schone made it 4-1 with a free kick which flummoxed goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Real coach Santiago Solari did not hide his disappointment at the defeat, which was Madrid’s joint-heaviest home loss in European competition, but said the players should be remembered for their enormous Champions League achievements. "These players were champions of Europe three years in a row, now they have been knocked out and it’s a very sad moment which puts into perspective how difficult it is to win the European Cup," the Argentine said.
"We are sad and feeling hurt, our huge efforts were in vain. We feel so bad, an infinite number of things happened in this game."
Former Madrid player Solari, who became coach in October when Julen Lopetegui was sacked, is on thin ice after overseeing four consecutive home defeats but he ruled out resigning. "I have not come here to give up, I am not considering anything like this," he said.
"I cannot evaluate my work. We are obliged to act like professionals, and tomorrow we have training."
Inspired by Zidane, Tadic plays game of life to slay Real
Serbian midfielder Dusan Tadic said Zinedine Zidane had helped inspire what he described as the game of his life in Ajax Amsterdam’s 4-1 drubbing of Champions League holders Real Madrid on Tuesday. The 30-year-old laid on passes for Hakim Ziyech and David Neres to give Ajax an early two-goal lead at the Bernabeu then capped a virtuoso display with a thunderous finish into the top corner to make it 3-0.
"This is probably the best game of football I’ve ever played," Tadic told reporters after the last-16, second leg match. "We beat the best club in the world. I'm very proud and I think we made a lot of people happy tonight."
Tadic, who joined the Dutch side last year after struggling for consistency in four years at English club Southampton, utterly bossed the centre of the pitch and dominated Real’s midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro. "Zidane was always my favourite player. Maybe I was watching too many of his clips," he added.
Ajax had been the better side in last month’s first leg in the Netherlands but were beaten 2-1. They showed no sign of an inferiority complex in the return and delivered a complete display that recalled the great Ajax team managed by Louis van Gaal who reached consecutive Champions League finals in 1995 and 1996.
"This was pretty close to perfection," said beaming coach Erik ten Hag. "Over the two matches we definitely deserved to progress to the next round. I enjoyed watching my team immensely this evening."
Captain Matthijs de Ligt said the display would only encourage thoughts that Ajax’s 24-year wait for a fifth European title might soon be over. "It was a real team performance." he said. "The way our attackers tracked back to defend was great. We caused Bayern Munich problems, who are one of the favourites, and we have just eliminated the holders. Who knows how far we can go?"