End of an era for Los Blancos’ Champions League heroes

Real Madrid’s European dominance is over in emphatic style. A 4-1 defeat to Ajax at the Santiago Bernabeu is more than just a night to forget for Los Blancos: it is the end of an era.
After something of a fortunate 2-1 win in Amsterdam, Santiago Solari’s side looked to have done enough. That result seemed sufficient to see the champions through, even after Sergio Ramos decided he would miss the second match with a deliberate yellow card late in the game at the Johan Cruijff ArenA.
But it was nearly enough in the end as Real were brutally beaten at the Bernabeu. In the space of what must go down as one of the worst weeks in the club’s entire history, their season is in tatters.
Last Wednesday, Madrid were still fighting on three fronts, but a 3-0 loss here to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg ended their hopes in the cup competition, a 1-0 defeat to the Catalans on Saturday saw Real fall 12 points behind in La Liga and their misery has been compounded on this astonishing night against Ajax.
The 4-1 win does not flatter the Dutch champions in any way. If anything, it could have been worse for Madrid. But it was bad enough and brings to an end Madrid’s spell as the dominant force in European football.
After edging out Atletico on penalties in the 2016 Champions League final in Milan, Zinedine Zidane’s side followed up with fresh triumphs by beating Juventus in Cardiff and then Liverpool in Kiev. A historic three-peat.
But four in a row was always going to be difficult after Zidane left at the end of May, claiming he could no longer motivate the players, and Cristiano Ronaldo quickly followed him out of the door as he moved to Juventus.
Madrid did not replace Ronaldo, who scored 450 times in nine seasons at the club, and only two goals in four straight home defeats highlights how much he has been missed.
Cracks were there even last season, though, as Madrid lost La Liga by 17 points from Barca, finishing third in the table, and stuttered through the rounds to win a third straight Champions League crown.
After Zidane and Ronaldo left, coach Julen Lopetegui was also gone within a few months, leaving after a 5-1 loss to Barcelona, and Solari is unlikely to last long after this latest disappointment – a first last-16 exit for Los Blancos in Europe since 2009-10.
Fans at the Bernabeu called for president Florentino Perez to resign in the second half and while that is unlikely, the club chief will now need to overhaul an ageing squad this summer with several new signings as Gareth Bale, Isco, Marcelo and others look set to leave.
A memorable era is over for this great Real Madrid team, but a club of this stature is obliged to rise once more and come back stronger. Once the dust has settled on a night of agony and humiliation, the hard work will start all over again.

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