Champions League: Ajax dump Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus out
We won't be getting a Leo Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo showdown in the final at the Wanda, then. Messi remains on course and, given the way he's playing, it hardly takes a stretch of the imagination to see him and his Barcelona side winning their semi-final. Last night, Manchester United started well against an initially sluggish Barça, even giving them a couple of decent scares, but the tie was all but over the moment Messi picked the ball up in his favourite area, set off on one of his diagonal runs, and (helped by a nutmeg and Luis Suárez's efforts to drag the centre-backs out of position) sliced through United's backline before firing into the corner. He didn't take long to net again, either, although this time he got a helping hand from David de Gea. Philippe Coutinho then rounded off the scoring.
Barcelona too good for United, Juve stunned by fantastic Ajax
In the end, Barça's victory was just a matter of pressing home their superiority. As we'd already seen in the first leg, they're a better team than United, pure and simple - and, if in doubt, have an ace card up their sleeve in the shape of Mr Messi. Juventus have one too in Cristiano, who scored three against Atlético Madrid and one in each leg of their quarter-final tie, but the rest of his team proved no match for an Ajax side that shocked Real Madrid at the Bernabéu and made hay once more last night. I don't know whether Juve would have done any better had they had Giorgio Chiellini and Mario Mandzukic out there, though I rather suspect not, to be honest. And while I'm sorry to see Cristiano out of the race for the trophy, the fact that we're going to see more of this Ajax makes up for that in spades.
Because they play wonderful stuff, linking up beautifully in attack. They maybe lack that finishing touch now and again: they have such fun with ball at feet that it's as if they don't want to let go of it even to stick it into the net. That was said to be the problem with the great River Plate side of the 1940s; they spent so long weaving their sightly patterns of play that scoring was almost an afterthought. This Ajax, whose abundance of lefties gives them an extra splash of magnetism, brings back memories of the club's legendary 70s era. They are, as the Spanish pundit Axel Torres noted, a kind of pre-Bosman throwback: a top, top side largely developed in-house, rather than being built by dint of transfer-market muscle. They're a team that won't be together much longer, but in the meantime they're a delight to watch.