Champions League, Last 16, Johan Cruijff Arena – Ajax 1 (Ziyech 75′) Real Madrid 2 (Benzema 59′, Asensio 87′)
ubstitute Marco Asensio came off the bench to give Real Madrid a smash-and-grab 2-1 win over Ajax in Amsterdam on Wednesday amidst VAR controversy.
To say Real rode their luck in the first-half would be an understatement. The energetic hosts completely dominated the opening 45 minutes and they had chances aplenty, too. Dusan Tadic agonisingly struck the woodwork with a sublime volley, while Frenkie De Jong was denied by Thibaut Courtois at point-blank range.
The talking point came about five minutes before the half-time break, however, when Nicolas Tagliafico looked to have given Ajax a deserved lead after Courtois spilled Matthijs De Ligt’s header only for referee to chalk it out following a VAR review ruling that Tadic was marginally offside.
Ajax’s pain was compounded when Karim Benzema thrashed in the game’s opener – his 60th goal in the competition – on the hour-mark following a mazy run by teenage sensation Vinicuis Junior, but the Dutch grabbed an equaliser through Hakim Ziyech to set up an intriguing finale.
Madrid’s quality showed in the end, however, when Asensio snatched victory for Real and put the holders in control of the tie. The sides meet at the Bernabeu for the second-leg on March 5 when Ajax have it all to do to.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes opposition sides are now ‘scared’ to play his side due to their recent form.
Dutch giants Ajax will welcome European champions Real Madrid to Amsterdam on Wednesday night for the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie.
Madrid have had their problems this season, but Santiago Solari‘s side will enter this week’s match off the back of a fine run of form and will be confident of taking an advantage into the second leg at the Bernabeu.
Los Blancos are up to second in La Liga and have recently recorded victories over Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Real Betis and Espanyol, alongside a Copa del Rey semi-final draw at Barcelona.
“Teams are scared to play us because of our form,” Courtois told a pre-match press conference, as cited by Marca.
“When we had a poor month in October teams were excited because we were in poor form and teams played us with confidence, but now the situation is reversed.
“We are fighting for every competition both at home and in Europe, because when you play for Real Madrid there is no other way.
“Ajax will be a tough opponent, they have recruited well with players like Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic to add to quality like Hakim Ziyech, Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong.
“They know how to play good football and you saw this in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, so we must be very careful.
“We know that we have to give everything in order to progress.”
Head To Head
The two teams have met on 12 occasions in the European Cup. Madrid lead the head-to-head seven wins to four, with only one draw taking place.
Madrid have won each of the last six meetings between the two teams, but Ajax won four straight matches against the Spanish giants between April 1973 and November 1995.
On Madrid’s last visit to Amsterdam in October 2012, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win.
Ajax possible starting lineup:
Onana; Mazraoui, Blind, De Ligt, Tagliafico; Schone, De Jong, Van de Beek; Neres, Tadic, Ziyech
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Reguilon; Casemiro, Modric, Kroos; Lucas, Benzema, Vinicius