Champions League - Madrid send Ajax out
A controversial 3-0 defeat at home to Real Madrid saw Ajax pipped to the second Champions League Group D qualification spot by Lyon.
Though a much-changed Madrid team took an early lead through Jose Callejon, the Eredivisie champions went on the front foot and were denied a pair of seemingly legal goals, scored by Nicolas Lodeiro and Miralem Sulejmani, which were struck off for offside.
Gonzalo Higuain compounded the home side's frustrations on the stroke of half-time with Real's second, but with a goal difference advantage of seven over Lyon heading into match day six, second spot still appeared assured.
But as news filtered through of the French club coming back from a goal down to hit 10-man Dinamo Zagreb for seven, the mood in the Amsterdam ArenA changed, and despite a host of chances to find a way back into the game Ajax were killed off by Callejon's second in stoppage time.
The Dutch side have now missed out on the knockout stages for six straight seasons, while Jose Mourinho's best ever run of results as a manager continues.
With the home side still in need of a point to secure their participation in the tournament beyond the night, and Real perhaps with one eye on the Clasico fixture against Barcelona at the weekend, Frank de Boer’s side took the game to Madrid for large periods.
Indeed, the sight of Los Blancos spending the majority of the game defending was a rare one, but with a front three of Kaka, Higuain and Karim Benzema, they undoubtedly posed the greater threat going forward.
And it was this cutting edge which broke the deadlock on 14 minutes, though the finish came from homegrown star Callejon after he beat the offside trap to collect Kaka’s raking pass and beat Kenneth Vermeer in a one-on-one situation.
Keeping their heads up in the knowledge that Lyon had a seven goal difference deficit to overturn, the home side stuck to their guns and finally began to test reserve goalkeeper Antonio Adan.
However, the lead was almost doubled on 25 minutes as Benzema beat two defenders with nifty footwork only to have his low shot well stopped by the outrushing Vermeer.
Van der Weil, operating more as an extra playmaker rather than in his designated position at right-back, strode forward for the umpteenth time on 32 minutes to thump a low shot from outside the box, which was spilled by Adan.
But though Lodeiro was onside when he raced onto the loose ball and headed home what appeared to be the equaliser, the flag of the assistant went up and the goal would not stand.
It was déjà vu four minutes later when Vurnon Anita’s 25-yard shot came off the chest of Sulejmani and sailed beyond the outstretched arms of Adan.
Once again, the flag was raised, and once again replays showed the forward was onside. And on 41 minutes, those two decisions looked even more potentially crucial.
For the second time in the game, Anita in his makeshift position of centre-back was unable to maintain the offside trap allowing Higuain to collect a cross-field pass and fire the second into the roof of the net.
With the score 1-1 in Zagreb at the interval, Ajax maintained a strong grip on second place until the goals began to pour in the second half for Lyon.
Captain Jan Vertonghen put a free header from a corner wide of the mark on 49 minutes while the Frenchmen raced 3-1 to the good, and around the same time Sulejmani chipped Adan and hit the crossbar four minutes later, three had become four in the other fixture.
The fifth in Croatia came just before Cristian Eriksen forced a decent low parry from Adan, and with 20 minutes remaining word reached the Ajax coaching staff that they now required at least one goal to retain their goal difference over their qualification rivals, who had netted number six.
An Anita cross left Adan flapping at the ball, but while the impressive Lorenzo Ebecilio’s cut-back for teenage sub Jasper Klaassen was fired over a half-open goal, Lyon’s seventh against the despondent Zagreb left the home side little over 10 minutes to snatch a draw.
Though they continued to fight, Madrid broke once more in the second minute of stoppage time and Callejon timed his run perfectly to latch onto the superlative lofted pass of Xabi Alonso, on for Esteban Granero, to score his fourth goal in two Champions League games and hammer the final nail into Ajax’s coffin.
Though De Boer’s injury-ravaged squad had done him proud in his 50th game in charge by becoming one of the only sides not named Barcelona to boss a match against any incarnation of the Galacticos squad, they will be entered into the Europa League draw next Friday.