Contentious First Use Of VAR In Champions League Helps Real Madrid Edge Ajax

Real Madrid defeated Ajax 2-1 in Amsterdam, with a little help from VAR.

The Video Assistant Referee is in use in the Champions League Round of 16 for the first time this week. So of course conspiracy theorists are already hard at work trying to figure out the Ajax disallowed goal that helped Real Madrid grab a 2-1 away win in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday. 

UEFA, thankfully, is smarter than the English FA and decided to start using VAR for the Champions League in the Round of 16 instead of waiting for next season. The first two matches Tuesday were without controversy and the VAR was not required. 

Wednesday in Amsterdam was a different story.

Ajax, despite coming in having lost two of its last three to fall further behind Hirving Lozano’s PSV in the Eredivisie, was on the front foot in the first half. The home side at the Johan Cruyff Arena had Real Madrid reeling, coming close on a handful of opportunities, one striking the post. 

Real Madrid couldn’t cope with Ajax, resorting to brutish tactics. Note Sergio Ramos yelling at David Neres to get up after Dani Carvajal made just about the most blatant foul you can commit.

Ultimately, the pressure seemed to have paid off in the 40th minute, when Nicolás Tagliafico headed in on a scrum off a corner kick, with Thibaut Courtois fumbling away his chance to grab the ball. 

Then VAR had its say. 

With the aid of replay, officials disallowed the Ajax goal, calling offside.

After the match, Courtois said he with the call (surprise surprise), but didn’t actually realize which offside call was made. Courtois was thinking about the first phase after Matthijs de Ligt’s header, not the second on Tagliafico’s header, which illustrates the amount of confusion on the pitch. 

Ultimately, the call was — by the narrowest of margins — the right call, which is what VAR is there for. 

Not that Ajax fans — or Real Madrid haters — will agree. 

With Los Blancos fortunate not to trail at halftime, they made the most of their opportunity in the second half. They took the lead through Karim Benzema in the 60th minute, set up by Vinicius Junior, who was arguably Real Madrid’s best player on the day. 

The goal made Benzema the fourth player to reach 60 Champions League goals behind Raúl and two schmucks named Messi and Ronaldo. Benzema has eight goals in 2019, the most by any LaLiga player (tied with that Messi fellow). 

Ajax was able to equalize thanks to Hakim Ziyech’s strike in the 75th minute. 

It was sweet relief for the home side, but it was short-lived. 

With three minutes left in the 90, Marco Asensio, who came on for Benzema, got on the end of a cross from Carvajal to send the three-time reigning champion to a big road win over a young but talented Ajax side.

The result was tough on Ajax, but you can’t say unfair. Video replay doesn’t lie, and Real Madrid had just a little bit more final product when it counted. 

The return leg at the Bernabeu will be March 5.