Champions League: Ajax stuns Real Madrid, knocks out three-time defending winners

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For the first time in four years, Real Madrid will not win the UEFA Champions League. Europe’s three-time defending champ was stunned 4-1 at home Tuesday by Dutch side Ajax, which won the the two-leg, round of 16 series 5-3 on aggregate and ended the Spaniards’ stranglehold on the world’s premier club competition.

Real went into the decisive match comfortably ahead after beating Ajax 2-1 with two away goals last month in Amsterdam. But now the Spanish giants have also lost four consecutive matches at the Santiago Bernabeu and are missing Cristiano Ronaldo, who was sold to Juventus last summer.

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Gareth Bale and Real Madrid were eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday by Ajax. (Getty)
Gareth Bale and Real Madrid were eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday by Ajax. (Getty)

Signs of trouble were there from the opening whistle. The hosts squandered a golden opportunity to all but seal their place in the quarterfinals when unmarked defender Raphael Varane headed a sitter onto the crossbar less than four minutes into the contest. They’d shake the woodwork with another chance later on. Those misses proved costly.

The livelier team from the start, Ajax took the lead and leveled the aggregate just three minutes after Vanane’s unsuccessful effort when Hakim Ziyech scored on a powerful right-footed shot that left Real keeper Thibaut Courtois helpless:

The strike only bolstered the visitors’ confidence. And Ajax used that momentum — and the fact Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari had to burn two substitutes in the first half because of injuries to forwards Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez — to score again before halftime through David Neres, who rounded Courtois before chipping home another vital away goal:

Neres could’ve padded his side’s lead further before the break but sent his shot off a counterattack wide of the Belgian’s net.

Real came out with expected urgency when the second half began. But again it was Ajax who got the next goal as VAR correctly ruled that the entire ball had not gone out of play before Dusan Tadic made it 3-1 on the night (and 4-3 overall):

Real then pulled one back when sub Marco Asensio scored with 20 minutes to go. But whatever hopes of a miraculous comeback — and a fourth straight title —remained for the hosts ended when Lasse Schone beat Courtois off a free kick moments later:

It’s a monumental win for Ajax, a four-time European champ that has found it almost impossible to compete with top clubs from bigger countries since a 1996 European Union court ruling, which allowed the free movement of the continent’s players across borders. Ajax was the reigning Champions League winner at the time, and reached that year’s final.

It’s no coincidence that the Dutch side hasn’t been back since. Heck, 15 years have passed since it even reached a quarterfinal. A fifth title probably isn’t realistic considering the juggernauts remaining in the tournament. But after what happened in Madrid on Tuesday, it’s clear that Ajax’s next foe will overlook them at their peril.

Tottenham puts away Borussia Dortmund

In Tuesday’s other decisive Champions League match, Tottenham Hotspur put its recent troubles in England’s Premier League aside to finish off German Bundesliga co-leaders Borussia Dortmund.

The second leg seemed like a mere formality after Spurs took a commanding 3-0 lead in the opener. Yet seeds of doubt had been planted following a winless swoon in the Prem. And just like in the first meeting last month in London, Dortmund had no shortage of chances at the Westfalenstadion.

The home team utterly dominated. By the time the match was over, BVB had outshot Tottenham by a staggering 19-5, forcing seven saves from keeper Hugo Lloris and conceding just one shot against its own net.

That shot was the only one the visitors would need, though, as Harry Kane — who else? — put the result out of reach with a backbreaking finishing off a counterattack:

For a team that has gone from legitimate domestic title contender to also-ran in recent weeks, the win is huge for Tottenham’s psyche. Mauricio Pochettino’s side can now resume league play with some of the swagger it showed earlier in the season.

Pochettino complained about fixture congestion and the impact it has on players’ health in the lead-up to this match. He’s not wrong. On the other hand, after losing at the same stage to Juve last year, you can be sure the Argentine won’t mind adding a couple of Champions League quarterfinal games to Spurs’ schedule.

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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