Juventus’ €341m Ronaldo gamble fails in abysmal Ajax exit
The Italian champions' failings were laid bare for all to see in an abject home performance as they were deservedly routed by a brilliant Ajax team.
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo in Turin last summer was supposed to herald a new dawn of Champions League dominance for Juventus, after so many close calls. Those expensive plans - at a total cost of €341 million (£294m/$383m in wages and transfer fee - were left in pieces on Tuesday as Ajax ran riot to prove that one player on his own can never make a team.
Death, taxes and Ronaldo coming to the fore on a Champions League evening. Life holds very few certainties for any of us, but seeing the Portuguese take a starring role when it most counts in European competition is about as close to a given as it gets.
So when the tournament's all-time leading goalscorer and their saviour against Atletico Madrid powered home a header to put his side ahead in the first half – aided by Matthijs de Ligt's unfortunate tumble – the script appeared to be written. Ajax's fairytale looked set to come to an end thanks to the supreme talents of Juve's talisman.
Ajax, however, refused to play a secondary role. Having sought to take the initiative throughout the opening 45 minutes the Dutch side caught a break when Donny van de Beek received the ball in blissful solitude inside the area. The midfielder finished impeccably to level at 2-2 on aggregate, leaving the tie poised on a knife-edge as the two teams went back to the dressing room for half-time.
Having shown a reluctance to push forward that is near-inexplicable given the array of stars at their disposal, Juve were plunged into a dilemma.
Open the game up and risk going toe-to-toe with the dangerous visitors, or continue to stack men behind the ball and wait for Ronaldo to once more come to the rescue?
Despite the entrance of Moise Kean to give his side a more direct route to goal, the answer was overwhelmingly the second option. Juve were played off the park by an Ajax team that surpassed them both in ambition and execution and only two stunning interventions by Wojciech Szczesny in goal kept the scoreline level.
But the Juve No. 1 could do nothing when Ajax's onslaught finally bore fruit. Having lost Ronaldo in the build-up to the goal De Ligt made amends by rising majestically to meet Lasse Schone's corner and send the away support into ecstasy.
There was no way back for the demoralised Italians, whose 23-year wait for a Champions League title will be delayed for at least another season.
Nothing should be taken away from the victorious Eredivisie side, who proved decisively over both legs that their incredible toppling of reigning champions Real Madrid was no fluke. At no point in the tie did Juventus have the better of their rivals, who produced scintillating football to book a deserved place in the last four.
The lesson of this quarter-final is impossible to escape, though. Ronaldo gave everything for his new club, scoring in both games to keep them in the running. But, perhaps lulled into complacency by the ease of their upcoming eighth Scudetto in a row, Massimiliano Allegri's men seem to have forgotten along the way that it is teams rather than individuals that win big trophies - a fact never better demonstrated than by Wednesday's swashbuckling victors.
There are no shortcuts to success at this level. Even with the record-breaking hitman in tow, Juve were insipid and predictable and now need to rebuild again after a Champions League campaign that promised so much, never managed to ignite and now ends with the most pitiful of whimpers.