How VAR kept Ajax from beating Real Madrid in Champions League

Dutch Eredivisie giants Ajax would have felt hard done by after being narrowly beaten by Real Madrid in a match that saw them have a goal controversially disallowed by the video assistant referee. In the end, Real Madrid snatched a 2-1 win over Ajax in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie on Wednesday, as VAR made a controversial first appearance in the competition.

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Having had a Nicolas Tagliafico goal disallowed in the first half after a review, Ajax found themselves behind through Karim Benzema’s 60th goal in the tournament. Hakim Ziyech thought he had secured a deserved draw for the home side at Johan Cruijff ArenA with his first Champions League goal, only for Spanish forward Marco Asensio to get a strike late on to put Madrid in control of the tie.

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Ajax started strongly, Dusan Tadic collecting Lasse Schone’s headed pass and smacking the outside of the left-hand post with a bending effort from 18 yards out. Another fine passing move saw Tagliafico, David Neres and Tadic combine to set up Ziyech in clear space in the box, but Courtois raced off his line to save. It looked like Courtois had gifted Ajax a deserved lead when he fumbled Matthijs de Ligt’s header and allowed Tagliafico to nod in the rebound. But the goal was disallowed after a VAR review, seemingly because Tadic was blocking the keeper from an offside position. Neres spurned another presentable chance when one-on-one with Courtois, but Madrid were beginning to offer a greater threat of their own, Benzema forcing a good low stop from Andre Onana with a half-volley.

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With an hour gone, Madrid found the breakthrough. Vinicius Junior raced onto a ball over the top from Sergio Reguilon, skipped his way across the box and teed up Benzema to fire into the top-left corner of the net. Substitute Kasper Dolberg blasted another good opening over the bar, but Ajax finally found the net when Ziyech side-footed past Courtois from Neres’ precise cross. But with three minutes of normal time remaining, Dani Carvajal raced down the left and curled a cross into the box that escaped Onana and was tapped in by Asensio.

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The second leg takes place in the Spanish capital on March 5, with Ajax needing to secure a two-goal win in Spain to progress to the quarter-final stage at the expense of the three-time defending champions. Did Ajax deserve at least a draw in this game?