For the fifth time in three seasons, Ajax bowed to Real Madrid’s superiority. On Wednesday evening, Real was too strong for the Dutch champion: 1-4. After two UEFA Champions League group matches, Ajax is in last place, with zero points. Frank de Boer: “You need to respect your opponents, but not defer to them.”
A lot had been said about the difficulty of the champions’ pool. Leading up to Ajax – Real Madrid, every aspect was discussed. Obviously, there was the massive difference in quality, budget and experience, but purely based on belief in itself, Ajax should be able to make something happen against the Spanish champion. But it didn’t turn out that way. Ajax suffered a big loss and was really only able to faze Real for a short period in the second half. The match ball went to game winner Ronaldo, who stole the show with three goals.
“You can lose to an opponent like Real Madrid. There’s nothing strange about that. But you can’t sell out on your own philosophy. I thought we deferred to the opponents too much tonight. You can respect your opponents, but not defer to them” said Frank de Boer unambiguously afterwards. “When we have possession, we need to do what we’re good at. At unfortunately, we didn’t do that. Too many players played under their level.”
Under the ArenA’s closed roof, Ajax started with the same line-up as in the previous two matches. Considering the good results against FC Utrecht and FC Twente, Frank de Boer had little reason to make changes. With experienced controller Christian Poulsen as an extra asset, Ajax attempted to limit the Spanish menace as much as possible. Ricardo van Rhijn was assigned a key role guarding Christiano Ronaldo. Both defensively and offensively, Ajax’s right back needed to make things as difficult as possible for Real Madrid’s shining star.
The (much) stronger Real Madrid had the most opportunities by far, but, until the 42nd minute, Ajax cherished a blank sheet thanks to the outstanding Kenneth Vermeer. The keeper distinguished himself by making countless saves on the many attacks on his goal. In the end, Ajax’s number 1 was forced to give in to Ronaldo. On an attack from the left flank, Karim Benzema made a pass, and the ball arrived, via Poulsen among others, at the Portuguese player’s feet. He knew exactly what to do with it: 0-1. A few scarce minutes after the break, Ajax faced another setback. With a swift overhead kick, Benzema doubled Madrid’s lead. The vocal 50.000 Ajax fans witness a true world class goal.
Still, even 0-2 down, it wasn’t over in the ArenA; on the contrary. Although the numbers were in Madrid’s favour, Ajax continued to go after a goal. “It’s time we scored”, De Boer had said the previous day, referring to the numbers from the last four meetings between the two teams: 0-12. Ten minutes after, his words were heeded. Niklas Moisander broke the Ajax drought. The Fin was free as a bird near the second post during a corner, and he put the ball between Michael Essien and keeper Casillas with a header: 1-2.
The goal inspired Ajax to go after more. Thanks to the outstanding Vermeer, the deficit remained one goal for twenty minutes. “Fortunately the 1-2 goal came. That brought the crowd completely behind us.” In order to increase the chance of scoring, Sana was substituted midway through the second half by a remarkable player making his debut: Danny Hoesen. Jong Ajax’s 21 year old centre forward saw his first stint in the match selection rewarded with minutes on the field, playing at the very highest club level. Three minutes after coming in, Hoesen had the 2-2 goal at his feet. “A one hundred percent opportunity”, was De Boer’s assessment. On a Ryan Babel pass, which Siem de Jong missed, Hoesen shot the ball over the second post.
“Despite that good phase, we didn’t have any right to a point”, was the Ajax coach’s belief, who was complimented afterwards by José Mourinho on how well he had put together his team. “Because we were very naïve when we had possession, we were down 1-4 in no time.” Ronaldo put a definitive end to all Amsterdam hope. Within two minutes, the forward demonstrated his world-class abilities twice. First, in the 79th minute, he shot a curve ball past Vermeer’s reach. He made good again in the next attack. With his third, and Madrid’s fourth, goal of the evening, the game ended with a significant loss for Ajax: 1-4.