Real Madrid coach Santi Solari hailed his team’s ability to suffer and then hit back after Wednesday’s 2-1 Champions League round-of-16 first-leg win at Ajax.
A super intense Ajax team overwhelmed Madrid at times and could easily have been 2-0 ahead at the break but Dusan Tadic hit a post and a VAR call disallowed a Nicolas Tagliafico header.
The holders upped their game after the break, going ahead through Karim Benzema and hitting back again after Hakim Ziyech equalised through substitute Marco Asensio in the 87th minute.
“We knew how to play the game, to work hard, to suffer when we had to, and then to hit back and score when the chances came,” Solari said at the postgame news conference in Amsterdam. “That shows the strength of the players and the group.
“They had been reserving energy for this game and they took it all out today. They pushed us back and took the ball from us, played with aggression on the edge of the rules. But when we could get out past their pressure, we created chances, and scored two very important away goals in the tie.
“I am very happy with how they all played, they all gave maximum effort, it would have been difficult to win without that.”
Eighteen-year-old Vinicius Junior was again one of Madrid’s better players, but Solari preferred to praise the contribution off the bench of fit-again Asensio.
“[Vinicius] did well, but they all did,” the Argentine said. “They all had to compete and dedicate themselves to area of the game they are not used to. We are very happy, especially for Marco Asensio, how he played, and for his goal, which was very important.
“He had an injury and is working well now. He is getting better, doing all he has to. That is how you get more playing time.”
Although his team now look well in control of the tie ahead of the return at the Bernabeu on Tuesday March 5, Solari said he was taking nothing for granted yet.
“We must show the same seriousness as today, that is what you must do in these Champions League ties,” he said. “It will be another very nice, very intense game. There is no easy game in this competition, all the teams are very good, and Ajax showed that today.
“They played with a lot of energy and quality, making us work very hard for our victory.”