Ajax was completely dominated by Real Madrid in their first Champions League away game in Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. They are not the only ones to have met this fate: Real hasn’t lost its first UEFA Champions League home match in 14 years. But Frank de Boer would have liked for it to be otherwise.
On Tuesday, the coach undoubtedly looked back on his debut match, away against AC Milan, which was a Champions League match as well. Ajax won that game playing the way he likes to see them play: with guts. For this match against Madrid, Ajax showed the same spirit, going out onto the field with chests thrust out. Real Madrid didn’t get any space to manoeuver in the opening phase, and couldn’t seem to get anywhere with Ajax’s lively attacking style. Ajax had opportunities from Boerrigter, Sigthórsson, Sulejmani, and De Jong, who had the best one. The preparation especially in this last opportunity must have done De Boer proud. A bad Real Madrid pass across was picked up by Ajax and a beautiful attack followed, which unfortunately just missed paying off.
After fifteen minutes, Madrid had found the key, and played the attackers more rapidly. In the seventeenth minute, Ajax fans in the full stadium saw the mood drop when Khedira wasn’t stopped on the left. He made a custom-made pass to the free Benzema, who, from a prime position, shot wide. After Vermeer, who was keeping his fiftieth official Ajax match, was able to stop a Ronaldo shot, the latter did make good in the 25th minute: via a lightening quick attack, the Portuguese forward shot in simply, 1-0. Although Ajax showed some great attacking play, they defensively gave too much room to Madrid’s all-star offense. Kaká, in the 41st minute, once again had all the time in the world to shoot into the corner, 2-0. With that score on the board, Ajax retreated to the locker room at halftime.
In the fourth minute after the break, Kaká put the final nail in the coffin. He was able to make a pass through the left, and Benzema, who was free at the front, had no trouble scoring the third goal: 3-0. Reacting to this, De Boer pulled Janssen to the side-lines and sent Enoh in. “I wanted to build in more security for control at midfield. That’s why I brought Enoh in.”
Kaká gave Madrid another great opportunity, but his shot went just wide. Assistant coach Karanka, coaching due to Mourinho’s suspension, spoke volumes. He brought in Higuaín, Di María and Altintop: each one a great footballer in his own right. Ajax tried to make something happen in the second half with a few small opportunities from Eriksen, and two from Vertonghen, but it wasn’t nearly enough to fluster Real Madrid. Real was simply a cut above. “I have a mixed feeling about this match”, said De Boer afterwards. “We had a good start. But we knew that their strength was in their transitions. And when the first two goals scored against you are scored exactly like that, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. You need to be smart in those moments, either hold on to him, or bring him down.”
The Ajax fans who had travelled to support the young Ajax team which, with an average age of 23,61 years old, is the youngest in the Champions League, continued to cheer for their team whole heartedly until the end. After all, it’s games like this which give you experience. De Boer’s men will take this particular experience back to Amsterdam and it will hopefully help them during their next match at this level, against Zagreb. “I had actually hoped that we’d be even with Lyon at this stage, because we’d won the first match. But that’s not the way it is, because we tied that match. Now we need to win our first two matches, and we’ll have a fighting chance to get a good result against Lyon.”