Real Madrid claimed a fortunate win at Ajax in the Champions League last-16 first leg.
Ajax played well and had a Nicolas Tagliafico goal ruled out by the first Champions League video assistant referee consultation.
Holders Real took the lead when Karim Benzema blasted into the top corner after fine work by Vinicius Jr.
Hakim Ziyech levelled from 10 yards but Marco Asensio scored the winner from Dani Carvajal’s cross.
The Dutch side had the game’s best chances, with Dusan Tadic hitting the post in the first half and David Neres, who set up Ziyech’s goal, shooting straight at Thibaut Courtois in a one-on-one chance.
Substitute Kasper Dolberg missed a big chance in injury time as he slipped while shooting in the box, with Courtois able to get a hand to it.
VAR introduced at wrong time for Ajax
The video assistant referee system has been brought into the Champions League for this season’s knockout phases – and it got its first major usage at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Ajax thought they had taken the lead when Tagliafico headed the ball in following a goalmouth scramble. Lasse Schone’s corner found Matthijs de Ligt, whose header was scooped by Courtois into the air. Tagliafico headed the ball into the air over the keeper and Tadic and into the back of the net.
But after a consultation with the video assistant referee team, referee Damir Skomina went across to watch the incident again on his screen and disallowed the goal.
The official had decided Ajax forward Tadic was marginally offside and interfering with play – standing in front of Courtois at the exact moment Tagliafico got his header in. It was the correct decision technically, however without VAR the goal would have stood.
On the balance of play, Ajax had more than deserved Ziyech’s equaliser, which came with his 30th shot of the season – more than any other player in the Champions League.
They failed to make the most of their 19 shots and now face a real task on Tuesday, 5 March at the Bernabeu.
This was Ajax’s first Champions League knockout game in 13 years and with star midfielder Frenkie de Jong already agreeing to join Barcelona this summer, and teenage captain De Ligt among other star players expected to leave, they could have to wait a while before getting to this stage again unless they can overturn their deficit in Madrid.
Real find a way to get the job done again
Real Madrid have had a real aura of invincibility in the tournament, winning the past three finals in a row, all under Zinedine Zidane. No team had managed to defend the Champions League successfully until then.
Zidane has gone, his replacement Julen Lopetegui has been sacked and Santiago Solari is the man in charge now – but they still manage to win in Europe without performing well.
After riding their luck, they got the breakthrough when 18-year-old Vinicius Jr, the youngest player to make a Champions League knockout phase appearance for Real, controlled a long ball on the left wing, cut inside two defenders and squared it for Benzema to blast home his 60th Champions League.
Following Ziyech’s equaliser, substitute Asensio stole away from his marker at the back post to turn home Carvajal’s sumptuous cross into an empty net for a smash-and-grab win.
Captain Sergio Ramos, making his 600th Real appearance, picked up a late yellow card for fouling Dolberg, which means he will miss the second leg – but he will be back for the quarter-finals if Real are there.
Man of the match – Dusan Tadic (Ajax).
Match stats – Benzema equals Messi haul
- Ajax have lost their last seven games in European competition against Real Madrid, scoring three and conceding 22.
- Real have won six of their last seven Champions League away games in the knockout stages (L1), winning each of the last four.
- Ajax are winless in their last six Champions League knockout games at home (D3 L3), their last win coming in March 1996 against Borussia Dortmund.
- Real’s Karim Benzema has either scored or assisted a goal in each of his six Champions League matches against Ajax (four goals, four assists).
- No other La Liga player has scored more goals than Real Madrid’s Benzema in 2019 in all competitions (eight, level with Lionel Messi).
- Vinicius Jr has provided eight assists in all competitions for Real – more than any of his team-mates.