Okay, so Ajax’s amazing, unbelievable, thrilling 4-1 (FOUR to ONE!!!) upset over Real Madrid today wasn’t quite as amazing and unbelievable and thrilling as Barcelona’s 6-1 (SIX to ONE!!!!!) comeback a couple years ago, but it still has to go down as one of most improbable, well-deserved resurrection acts in recent Champions League history. Let’s break down all the most important moments, so that we can adequately bask in this infinitely delightful result.
This was the second leg of these two teams’ Champions League round of 16 matchup. The first leg, played in Amsterdam, finished 2-1 in favor of Madrid. That day, the visitors eked out an undeserved but not at all surprising win, seeing as how Madrid traditionally excel at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
This meant that coming into today’s game, Ajax had a huge mountain to climb. On the three-time reigning UCL champions’ home turf, Ajax had to not only win, but had to score at least twice, due to the away goals rule, if they had any chance of survival. If they scored twice and held Madrid to one goal after 120 minutes of regulation and extra time, the match would go to penalties. If Ajax could manage to score at least three times, then all they’d need to do is win the game outright to advance. Madrid’s season has been shaky and they were missing their superstar defender and spiritual leader, Sergio Ramos, who was so confident that his Blancos would progress after the first leg that he intentionally committed a hard foul at the end of the first match between these two to earn a suspension for the second leg. Even still, Ajax’s challenge was monumental.
Today’s match couldn’t have started better for Ajax. Missing Ramos’s calming influence generally, and specifically in Real’s build-from-the-back passing style, Real gagged up the ball in terrible position to hand their opponents an easy goal to kick off the scoring under 10 minutes in.
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Just about 10 minutes after that, Dušan Tadić—who had the game of his life—managed to embark on an otherworldly run that culminated with an inch-perfect through ball that assisted David Neres’s goal in the 18th minute:
That was the last goal of the first half, but wasn’t close to the last bit of potential game-changing action. Ajax had even more great opportunities to score the third goal in the rest of that half, and Madrid themselves hit the post twice in the opening 45 minutes. On top of that, Madrid’s starting wingers, Lucas Vázquez and a weepy Vinícius, were subbed out before halftime after both players picked up injuries. Even down two goals, playing awfully, and seeing two starters yanked off the pitch, it still felt like Madrid would re-establish order by scoring the next goal and turning the tide.
Real were indeed much more threatening going forward at the start of the second half, but were still just as inept defending as before. It wasn’t a surprise, then, when Tadić uncorked an absolutely gorgeous strike an hour into proceedings and gave Ajax their third goal, the one that finally felt like Madrid’s deathblow:
The goal was under video review for an agonizing few minutes, because of an extremely narrow out-of-bounds no-call in the lead-up to the third goal. Thankfully the soccer gods did not allow the devil that is VAR to ruin such an enormously important moment of beauty through the pedantic application of the rules in a way that would’ve completely gone against the spirit of the sport, and so the goal was upheld:
In the 70th minute, Marco Asensio stole a goal back for Madrid, but even then it felt like too little, too late. Two minutes later, Lasse Schöne made that feeling a reality when he scored the most stunning of all the day’s goals to restore the three goal lead and seal the upset:
Vinícius was sad:
This Madridista was sad:
So was this one:
So were these guys:
This one was mad:
This guy, Madrid manager Santiago Solari, was shocked:
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a former Madrid player who now plays for Ajax, was happy:
And all was right in the world.
In closing, Ajax ruthlessly murdered Real Madrid to get a result that was legitimately astounding and incredible to witness. Tadić was unreal, Frenkie de Jong was clowning guys left and right, David Neres was a terror to Madrid’s back line, and André Onana was Hercules in goal. On the other side, nearly every single Madrid player on the pitch played like garbage for what might be this all-conquering Madrid generation’s most humiliating loss, and it kills off any chance that the year finishes as anything other than an abject failure of historic proportion. A sad day for the Blancos, but a great day for everyone else.