UCL: Ajax schooling Real Madrid, the climax of football entertainment
I didn’t want the ninety minutes to end, my soul was yearning for something like ninety years.
It was all in there; sheer teamwork, individual brilliance, woodwork shots that leave you on the edge of your seat, “poetic justice” and much much more. It was not park the bus stuff we have been made to see recently, but end to end stuff of the experienced up against the less experienced. They were no sacred cows, as long as they were playing the round ball - all was willing to show what they can do with it.
Many post-match commentaries have spoken extensively as to why the holders of the UEFA Champions League crown, Real Madrid, fell victim to the young Ajax side. As tempting as it is to talk about the “bully” who has won the title, 4 times in the past 5 seasons, with many times just scrapping past opponents with a stroke of fortune or as some would argue, courtesy of experience - Ajax’s side of the story is a better one. More so because I selfishly get to say, I told you so as my predictions were all in favor of the Dutch Eredivisie side going through to the next stage.
Just seven minutes into the match, as I bumped into the room, Morocco’s Ziyech bumped into the Madrid box and carefully stroked the ball into the net after Dusan Tadic had laid it on the most silver platter. That was just moments after Raphael Varane had hit the woodwork on the other end after being gifted a free header by the unsuspecting Ajax defence. It got worse for the Spanish La Liga side, and it was that man again - the number 10 of the night, Dusan Tadic. This time, the Serbian turned the turf into his dancefloor, breezed past a few midfielders, including the mighty Casemiro by means of the marseille turn, made popular by Zinedine Zidane. As if that was not enough, the 30-year-old laid another assist for the 22-year-old David Neres, a relatively lightweight who didn’t trouble Sergio Ramos in the first leg. As they say, when the cat is away, the mice play- that was Neres. The young forward needed no second invitation as he sustained a challenge from Modric and chipped the ball beyond Courtois’ reach for Ajax’s second. Confidence oozing, Ajax out their traps and Madrid exposed, Neres almost retired Carvajal on the touchline before the whistle came all too quickly to momentarily call out the city fire squad because the Bernabeu was basically in flames.
We never thought it could get worse, but it did. After early signs of getting back into the game with Real Madrid’s Asensio and Benzema working out a few moments of magic with no success, that other star took his turn to kill the game. A feisty battle on the touchline, won by another Moroccan, Noussair Mazraoui resulted in a goal, controversially so as the ball looked like it had gone out of play. All I remember is that it ended in the glad feet of Tadic who took his time to place it in the top corner as he capped off what he called, perhaps the best match he had ever played. The unrelenting Asensio pulled one back for the champions but almost immediately, Ajax had another answer. Denmark’s Lasse Schone was delegated a task, preyfuly spied on the Belgian goalkeeper and dipped the ball into the net from the unlikeliest of positions. The Morrocan wonder, who scored in both legs, Hakim Ziyech, almost added a fifth from close range but somehow skied his effort. The four were more than enough to send the champions packing.
Now, the above narration sounds good but what makes this particular match an exhibit of a climax in football entertainment? Very simple, it was a David-Goliath story played before our very own eyes. Whether you were a Madrid or Ajax fan, it was difficult to be blind to the majestic displays. We looked on as a fairytale was being played and written.
The dreams of the Ajax kids were proved valid against the more mature and seasoned Madrid side. Conclusively, all dreams actually remain valid, at least in the world of football. It was all just the round of 16 - what more awaits us in the subsequent stages of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League season.