A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick and a wonder-goal from Karim Benzema gave Real Madrid their mandatory Champions League win at Ajax, triumphing 4-1 at the Amsterdam ArenA.
The visitors controlled the match from the start and strikes either side of half-time gave them a commanding 2-0 lead that was not flattering in the least, with the second goal a marvellous team effort capped by an exquisite finish from Benzema.
They almost contrived to throw it all away, with Ajax pulling one back on 56 minutes after Iker Casillas flapped at a Christian Eriksen corner and Niklas Moisander headed between his legs.
Buoyed by that, Ajax should have equalised when young substitute Danny Hoesen blasted high and wide of an empty net after the ball landed invitingly at the far post.
But the hosts could not find a second and, with gaps opening up on their defence, Ronaldo added two more fine finishes as Real made it two wins from two in Group D.
Ajax, meanwhile, have now lost their last seven matches against Spanish sides, with Real winning five of those clashes having been drawn in the same group in the unfortunate Dutch side's last three campaigns.
Before this clash Real had won their previous four matches against Ajax without conceding, while Ronaldo has now pilfered six goals in his last three matches against the Amsterdammers. His hat-trick tonight made it 14 goals in 11 Champions League games, a fearsome record that shows no sign of letting up.
An injury-ravaged Ajax did little to rock the boat in a first half that Jose Mourinho’s side dominated. Ajax, for their part, struggled to get past halfway, with lone striker Ryan Babel isolated and not suited to a target man role, although they defended stoutly and in numbers.
While Real dictated the play, the hosts did threaten on occasion, Derk Boerrigter’s third-minute run and cross causing problems, while Casillas flapped wildly at a corner but benefited from some sympathetic refereeing. He was not so well protected later on.
Opposite number Vermeer made a string of smart saves to keep the visitors out. The pick of the bunch was a one-on-one stop from Ronaldo, put through by a resurgent Kaka, with the keeper rushing out and spreading himself to deny the Portuguese.
That was followed by a superb double-stop from Kaka and Benzema, the former impressing on his return to the team as his long-range effort was batted into the Frenchman’s path, whose follow-up was expertly tipped behind by the flying Dutchman.
Ronaldo should also have scored with a point-blank header, again kept out by Vermeer, while the now-happy superstar also flashed a volley just wide before he finally found the net.
Despite their dominance, Real needed 42nd minutes to break the deadlock. They also needed a touch of fortune as Ronaldo fired home from close range after Benzema’s cross-shot was diverted into his path via several defenders.
It was tough on Vermeer, but deserved from Real, who battered their opponents going into the break, which could not come quickly enough for the defending Eredivisie champions.
And while Ajax started the second half promisingly – on the front foot, pressurising Real on the edge of their box – they were sucker-punched by a goal of extreme beauty from Benzema.
A Christian Eriksen free-kick was cleared and, with Benzema and Jose Callejon combining to clear, Marcelo was set on a bounding run from halfway. He picked out Kaka on the right wing, the Brazilian lofting an angled cross to the French forward, who finished off the move he started with a remarkable bicycle kick.
That seemed to signal the end of any comeback hopes but, not for the first time, Casillas made a pig’s ear of a corner, dithering across the length of his goal-line before getting beaten at his closest post by Moisander’s header, which bounced through the hapless Spain star’s legs.
There was well over half an hour left, and Ajax sensed blood.
Impressive goal-scoring winger Boerrigter was unfortunate to see a Robin van Persie-esque flicked finish spin inches wide of the post, while debutant Hoesen – who joined from Fulham in the summer and was only in the senior squad on account of a personnel crisis – somehow put high and wide when the ball dropped to him all alone at the far post on 68 minutes.
It was some miss, and unfortunate to fall for one so young, and while Ajax continued to attack you just had the feeling the gaps in their previously solid defence and midfield would be exploited soon enough.
Indeed, 10 minutes after that incident, Ronaldo had his second and Real’s third when – after some lovely exchanges with Benzema - he send a trademark dipping shot Vermeer into the bottom right.
Within seconds he had the match ball, clipping a delightful finish past the advancing Vermeer after substitute Mesut Ozil angled an inviting cross from the right.
There were more chances for the visitors as Daley Blind, who like Vermeer impressed in defeat, made a last-ditch tackle on Ronaldo as he prepared to gobble up his fourth, while a Benzema screamer was denied by Ajax’s keeper.
It would have been harsh on Ajax to concede further, but the win was well deserved with Real firmly in the driving seat of Group D.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Cristiano Ronaldo - Real Madrid: Kaka and Benzema also shone, while Vermeer was outstanding despite conceding four, but a hat-trick from Ronaldo capped a typically direct performance from the Portuguese.
AJAX: Vermeer 8, Van Rhijn 6, Alderweireld 5, Moisander 6, Blind 7, De Jong 6, Poulsen 5, Eriksen 5, Sana 6, Babel 5, Boerrigter 6; SUBS: Sporkslede N/A, Hoesen 5, Lukoki N/A
REAL MADRID: Casillas 5, Arbeloa 6, Ramos 7, Pepe, Marcelo 7, Essien 6, Alonso 7, Callejon 6, Kaka 8, Ronaldo 10, Benzema 9; SUBS: Khedira N/A, Ozil 7, Di Maria 7