Real Madrid was looking for salvation in a place it has found it so often in recent years, but Ajax wasn't about to cooperate.
Ajax went into the Bernabeu and routed Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, winning 4-1 on the day to oust the three-time reigning winners on a 5-3 aggregate in stunning fashion.
Real Madrid had been hoping for a rebound. Coming into the match, Real Madrid had been bounced from the Copa del Rey in the semifinals and saw its La Liga title hopes all but ended in a pair of home losses to rival Barcelona in the span of four days. It went from bad to worse, as Hakim Ziyech, Dusan Tadic, David Neres and Lasse Schone all scored in a masterful road performance, one that overturned a 2-1 loss in Amsterdam in the opening leg.
Real Madrid, without the suspended Sergio Ramos, also lost Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior to injuries within the first 35 minutes, forcing Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio into action off the bench.
Real Madrid pressured at the start and nearly went ahead in the fourth minute. Vazquez's service to the back post picked out Raphael Varane, who had surged forward from the back, and the center back powered his clean header from close range off the crossbar.
The hosts would be made to pay for that wastefulness moments later. Tadic pounced on a turnover and set up Ziyech, who powered a shot by Thibaut Courtois to level the series on aggregate at 2-2. With the two goals from the first leg, Real Madrid still led via away goals tiebreaker at the time.
Varane found himself in scoring position for Real Madrid again in the 18th minute, unmarked in the box as he tried to volley home a cross, but he could only put it directly on frame at Andre Onana. Once again, Ajax made Real pay for its inability to score, as Neres scored the go-ahead goal in the series by chipping Courtois from close range–after a brilliant piece of play by Tadic–making it 2-0 on the day and 3-2 on aggregate. The second away goal also meant that one Real Madrid goal would send the series to extra time, with the tiebreaker advantage nullified.
It got worse for Real Madrid in the 29th minute, when Vazquez was forced out with an injury. Bale, much maligned in Madrid recently, entered as his substitute, with a chance to change the tone around his play. The injury bug struck Real Madrid's other starting winger, too, as Vinicius Junior, one of the club's bright spots amid its slide, was forced off after making a darting run and finishing into the side netting. Asensio, who scored the winning goal in the first leg, came on in his place.
Bale made a positive contribution in the 42nd minute, when he hit the post after streaking in down the left and turning a chance on target.
Real Madrid came to life in the second half and nearly scored on a pair of tight-angled shots from either side of the field. The first came through Asensio, who whipped a left footed shot from the right by the far post. The opposite took place in the 59th minute, with Karim Benzema missing the back post by inches with his right-footed blast from the left.
It was Ajax that scored next though, doing so in controversial fashion. Tadic got the goal, a beautiful left-footed strike from inside the box, but the controversy took place well earlier in the build-up. The ball appeared to be fully out before being saved by Ajax, but play continued all the way up to Tadic's goal. A long video review ultimately did not yield conclusive evidence to overturn the goal, which stood and not only gave Ajax a 3-0 lead on the day, but also the edge in away goals, forcing Real to need three goals in the final hour or so.
Real Madrid got one in the 70th minute through Asensio, who pulled one back and brought Real Madrid within two goals of going through.
That glimmer of optimism was soon evaporated by Schone.
The Danish midfielder curled in a gorgeous free kick inside the far post, beating Courtois with a tight-angled chance to make it 4-1 on the day and 5-3 on aggregate two minutes after Asensio's goal to restore Ajax's stranglehold on the series.
Real Madrid had a late chance to pull one back and at least make the scoreline look more respectable, but it managed to mess up a 3-on-1 breakaway in the final third, with Bale ultimately having his tight-angled, late chance denied by a sliding Onana to ultimately sum up the effort.
If that wasn't enough, Real Madrid was left to finish with 10 man after Nacho, Ramos's replacement, was sent off in second-half stoppage time, an appropriate cap to a shambolic night for the reigning champs, whose stretch of European dominance is finally over.
Here were the lineups for both sides:
The round of 16 continues on Wednesday, when two more tickets to the quarterfinals will be punched. PSG hosts Manchester United holding a 2-0 aggregate lead, while Porto hosts Roma looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit.