Real Madrid have been European Champions for 1,012 days, but their time is up. In 89 days, the final will be held just 14km away at Atlético’s ground but they will not be there. In a single week, they have been knocked out of the Copa del Rey, the La Liga title race and the competition they won in four of the last five years. When the end came, it was brutal. It was also brilliant. Ajax came to the Bernabéu and tore them to bits, scoring four goals, each more impressive than the last.
This is the third time Ajax have won here in this competition, after 1973 and 1995. The last two times they won the European Cup; few would expect them to win it this time but on this evidence it may not be so unlikely. Madrid are bad, it is true, their season over in March, but Ajax are very, very good, deservedly through: this victory was as big as the first leg should have been, Somehow, they lost that 2-1. Somehow, that did not matter. In the end, this was comfortable.
Ajax knew that they needed two and the first leg had suggested that they could get them, but even the most optimistic would not have expected to get them so soon. Six minutes had gone when Toni Kroos, that “diesel-powered tractor” as Bernd Schuster had called him, had the ball taken from him and Ajax sprang. Dusan Tadic escaped up the right and pulled it back for Hakim Ziyech to score with a finish as tidy as the move had been. Madrid were passive; Ajax, like in the first leg, were aggressive, the speed and precision was hugely impressive, the ball moved swiftly, spaces opening before them.
Ajax took control, Madrid lost it entirely, the sense that this was slipping away from them shared in the stands and increasing when a superb second goal came. Again, Madrid were caught, slow to react as the move built from the back, and what followed was wonderful. Tadic performed a roulette, turning away from Casemiro and slipped a perfectly weighted pass into the area. David Neres, who a few minutes early had bamboozled Dani Carvajal with a ludicrously brilliant piece of skill, took it round Thibaut Courtois and finished.