Amsterdam, Dec 8: Ajax went out of the Champions League in dramatic circumstances on Wednesday after losing 3-0 to a below-strength Real Madrid in its final Group D match.
Looking to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time since 2005-2006, Ajax went into the match leading Lyon by three points and with a goal difference advantage of seven, but the French side thrashed Dinamo Zagreb 7-1 to snatch second place.
“This is a scenario you could not imagine in your worst dreams,” Ajax coach Frank de Boer said. “We will be in mourning tomorrow.”
Madrid went ahead through Jose Callejon in the 14th minute before Ajax had two goals contentiously disallowed by Portuguese referee Manuel De Sousa. Gonzalo Higuain scored the second in the 41st and Callejon wrapped up the win in injury time.
“He let their first goal through despite an appearance of offside and then ruled out two perfectly good goals by us,” De Boer said of De Sousa.
The Ajax players stood in the center circle at the final whistle, barely able to comprehend that they had missed out on the last 16 in the Champions League and will now have to continue their European campaign in the Europa League.
Madrid, meanwhile, became only the fifth team to win all six of its Champions League group matches, and the first since Barcelona in 2002-03.
“Our team was a bit up and down last season,” Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said. “This season we are much more confident and the team is much more compact. We are a better team than last year.”
Madrid plays Barcelona in the Spanish league on Saturday and was already qualified for the Champions League knockout stage as Group D winner so traveled to Amsterdam without stars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Mourinho also started Mesut Oezil and Xabi Alonso on the bench, but still had stars like Kaka and Karim Benzema in his starting lineup.
Ajax was missing most of its first-choice attack through injury along with central defender Toby Alderweireld, who injured a hamstring in training Tuesday.
Kaka exposed the frailty of the Amsterdam club's makeshift central defensive pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Daley Blind in the 14th minute with a pass that found Callejon unmarked in the middle. He appeared to look for an offside flag before calmly slotting the ball under Kenneth Vermeer for his third Champions League goal in as many matches this season.
Madrid came close to doubling its lead on a quick break in the 25th minute when Higuain found Benzema on the left. The Frenchman beat two defenders but Vermeer rushed off his line to block the low shot.
Ajax then twice looked to have drawn level in the space of five minutes only to be denied each time by the offside flag.
First, stand-in goalkeeper Antonio Adan fumbled a long range shot from Gregory van der Wiel and Nicolas Lodeiro was judged to be offside when he headed in the ball in the 32nd minute. Then Vurnon Anita's powerful drive past Adan was canceled out because Miralem Sulejmani was ruled to be interfering with play as he attempted to dodge the ball on its way into the net.
With Ajax still reeling from the offside decisions, Madrid made it 2-0 when Higuain again collected a long pass in too much space on the right and easily beat Vermeer.
Ajax should have made it 2-1 shortly after the break when Vertonghen rose above the Madrid defense but headed wide from close range after a Theo Janssen corner. Sulejmani then came agonizingly close, but saw his lob bounce off the bar.
As Madrid appeared content to sit back and absorb Ajax pressure, Cristian Eriksen drew a good save from Adan with a powerful low drive in the 66th minute.
“We had three chances to get a goal back in the second half ... but they didn't go in,” De Boer said.
But with so many of its strikers missing, Ajax rarely looked threatening, while in Zagreb Lyon's attack was amassing the big score it needed to secure a place in the knockout stages.
With the result already beyond doubt, Callejon added his second goal in the 90th minute to seal Ajax's fate.