Real lose all in space of a week

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois grasping at thin air as a left-wing free kick from Lasse Schone soars past him into the top corner for Ajax's fourth goal at the Santiago Bernabeu. Dusan Tadic (centre) celebrates scoring their third goal with
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois grasping at thin air as a left-wing free kick from Lasse Schone soars past him into the top corner for Ajax's fourth goal at the Santiago Bernabeu.PHOTO: REUTERS
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois grasping at thin air as a left-wing free kick from Lasse Schone soars past him into the top corner for Ajax's fourth goal at the Santiago Bernabeu. Dusan Tadic (centre) celebrates scoring their third goal with
Dusan Tadic (centre) celebrates scoring their third goal with the night's other scorers, David Neres (right) and Hakim Ziyech. The Dutch side overturned a first-leg deficit to dump the three-time defending champions out of the Champions League 5-3 on aggregate in the round of 16.PHOTO: REUTERS

Three-time defending champions shattered by upstarts Ajax after Cup, league losses

MADRID • Real Madrid have been European champions for 1,012 days, but their time is up.

On June 1, the 2019 Champions League final will be held just 14km away at the home of rivals Atletico but, for the first time after reaching and winning three straight finals, Los Blancos will not be there.

In one week at the Bernabeu they have been dumped out of the King's Cup, thrust 12 points off the pace in LaLiga, and exited the competition they made their own.

When the end came, it was brutal. But it was also brilliant. Ajax went to Madrid on Tuesday night and tore them to bits, winning 4-1 and 5-3 on aggregate in the last 16.

Their "s*** season", in Real defender Dani Carvajal's words, is now over in March.

But it is also true that Ajax were very good. Goals from Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, Dusan Tadic and Lasse Schone were the consequence of a collective superiority that was startling. They are deservedly through: too fast, too incisive, too well-organised against a team who are disintegrating, a generation that has come to a close.

"I have never had this feeling before," Carvajal said. "I don't know how to explain it. It's so bad. In a week we lost it all, we lost it all at home. Is it the end of an era? I don't see it like that but it is true the season is practically finished for us."

 
 
 

His coach Santiago Solari said afterwards "so much had happened", and he was right.

Real suffered three injuries, Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Jr 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 video assistant referee to mistakenly allow Ajax's third goal, after the ball went out of play in the build-up to Tadic's strike.

Captain Sergio Ramos, whose defensive prowess might have made a difference, was suspended after intentionally getting booked in the first leg in hopes of having a clean slate in the quarter-finals. His decision must surely feel daft as he watched from the stands.

And yet sometimes for all the analysis, all the detail, there is a simple truth and that was the case here: Ajax were simply better than Real, much of it owing to a Zinedine Zidane-inspired Tadic.

The Serbian midfielder said he took inspiration from the Real legend, ironically, for what he described as the game of his life.

Ajax had lost 2-1 at home and knew they needed to score at least two but little did they know they would get the goals so soon.

In just 18 minutes, the 30-year-old Tadic laid on passes for Ziyech and Neres to give them a two-goal lead. He then capped a virtuoso display with a thunderous finish to make it 3-0 just after the hour.

Real were surprisingly passive; Ajax were aggressive, the precision at pace impressive, the mastery of space even more so.

"This is probably the best game of football I've ever played," Tadic said. "We beat the best club in the world. I think we made a lot of people happy tonight."

  • 9

    Years since Real Madrid last failed to advance to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. They are also the first reigning champions not to make the last eight since Chelsea in 2013.

  • 4-1

    Real's loss was their biggest margin of defeat in a home knockout match in European competition.

Tadic, who joined the Dutch side last year after struggling for consistency in four years at English club Southampton, outshone Real's star 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.

Marco Asensio gave Real hope with an assured finish. But it lasted only two minutes, as Schone sent a bending free kick into the top corner to seal the win.

Solari insisted he would not resign even after Real failed to reach the competition's quarter-finals for the first time since 2010.

He was handed a contract until 2021 when he was appointed in November but the humiliating defeat means he may not last the season, let alone beyond the summer.

"I did not come to the club in such a difficult moment to give up," Solari said.

"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 GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline 'Real lose all in space of a week'. Print Edition | Subscribe