Rangers’ acclaimed Champions League return ended in debacle as reckless Ajax rioted in Amsterdam.
A nightmarish first half dashed hopes of a first win in the Dutch capital to mark the end of a 12-year absence from Europe’s top tournament.
Instead, the Europa League runners-up were outclassed thanks to goals from Edson Alvarez, Steven Berghuis, Mohammed Kudus and Steven Bergwijn.
Borna Barisic’s second-half goal was ruled out by VAR to cap a dismal night.
The defeat is Rangers’ second 4-0 defeat in a week after the Old Firm collapsed at Celtic Park on Saturday.
On the eve of the battle, manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst didn’t flinch. The Dutchman raised questions about potentially changing elements of his team following Saturday’s Celtic drubbing. First and foremost goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin.
“You keep trusting your players and giving them confidence because in the past we’ve recovered from heavy defeats and we need to do the same tomorrow,” he said.
With his side 3-0 down at half-time less than 24 hours later and their captain substituted, Van Bronckhorst was able to reassess the situation.
Even after reaching the Europa League final, finishing in the Champions League was always a step up. Early on, the Rangers were defensive but compact, timid but firm enough. Then the floodgates opened on a hot night.
Moments after a cautious Ryan Kent ducked from a superb counterattack, the ball was in the Rangers net. A corner should have been treated. Instead, Alvarez took a two-step step to avoid a sleeping James Sands and head inside.
Waves of red-white attacks kept bouncing off an increasingly nervous and sluggish Rangers defense. Devyne Rensch had saved a try and watched another fly past goal before the second goal came just after half an hour.
Berghuis found space on the edge of the Rangers’ penalty area to formulate a shot. His attempt looked like the diving McLaughlin would finish him off, only for a heavy deflection from Sands to take him off the keeper.
Ajax’s F-side ultras in the stands were still in full party mode when Kudus crashed in the third, but it was oh so easy.
His tight control and spin caught James Tavernier in a nap, with the Rangers captain failing to convincingly stop the galloping Ghanaian and land a thunderous shot over McLaughlin and off the post.
Van Bronckhorst made three substitutions at half-time, including the removal of Tavernier, but it wasn’t until 20 minutes from time that Rangers produced a big reaction.
Kent’s cutback for Barisic opened up a lavish shot into the far post for the defender, but after a lengthy VAR check it was clear Kent was a few yards offside in the build-up.
But the night was about to get worse, Bergwijn lunged for a roped Ryan Jack back pass to round and finish McLaughlin.
Player of the Match – Mohammed Kudus
Does Van Bronckhorst have to roll the dice? – Analysis
It’s easy to point out the Rangers’ static defense. What it’s like to praise a patient Ajax who has tied his opponents in knots with intricate triangles, running off the ball and more slouched shoulders than you can imagine.
But the mantra “defend starts over” comes to mind. And Rangers just weren’t there. Antonio Colak, the central touch point of the Ibrox side, barely touched the ball. Malik Tillman tried but got little support before being substituted at the break.
Kent cut a frustrated figure down the left and it’s clear why he’s only scored once this calendar year. There were brief flashes later, but Rangers need more of him.
This side have proven they can shine against clubs of this caliber in Europe and Van Bronckhorst said there would be no knee-jerk reactions ahead of the game. But with back-to-back 4-0 defeats, quick action is needed to justify confidence in his team.
- Ajax have won each of their last four home games in the Champions League group stage – their best streak since December 1995 (also four).
- Rangers conceded three first-half goals in a Champions League match against Juventus for the second time since October 1995.
- They have lost all five European clashes with Ajax, the most they have played against a side in all European competitions, without avoiding defeat.
- There were only 106 seconds between Ajax’s second (31:14) and third (33:00) goal. It was the first time the Dutch had scored three goals from the start in a Champions League game.
- With Connor Goldson, Ryan Kent, John Lundstram and James Tavernier, Rangers became the first non-English club to call up up to four different English players in a starting XI for a Champions League game.
Rangers travel to Pittodrie on Saturday (1pm BST) to take on Aberdeen. Their next Champions League game is on September 13 in Ibrox against Napoli.
- 17BlindReplaced byBaasat 82′protocol
- 23mountain houseReplaced byclassesat 82′protocol
- 4AlvarezReplaced bysanchezat 88′protocol
- 20HolyReplaced byBrobbyat 89′protocol
- 7mountain wineReplaced byOcamposat 82′protocol
- 35Fernandes da Conceicao
- 2tavernReplaced bykingat 45′protocol
- 18cameraReplaced byDavisat 78′protocol
- 23WrightReplaced byMany Thanksat 45′protocol
- 71tillmanReplaced byJackat 45′protocolBooked at 62 minutes
- 17Many Thanks
Game ends, Ajax 4, Rangers 0.
Second half ends, Ajax 4, Rangers 0.
attempt saved. Ryan Kent (Rangers) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Steven Davis with a header.
corner, ranger. Goal conceded by Lucas Ocampos.
corner, ranger. Goal conceded by Jurriën Timber.
attempt blocked. Ryan Kent (Rangers) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked.
Substitution, Ajax. Brian Brobbey replaces Mohammed Kudus.
Substitution, Ajax. Jorge Sanchez replaces Edson Alvarez.
Offside, Ajax. Lucas Ocampos tries a through ball, but Davy Klaassen is caught offside.
attempt saved. Lucas Ocampos (Ajax) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Kenneth Taylor.
Substitution, Ajax. Davy Klaassen replaces Steven Berghuis.
Substitution, Ajax. Lucas Ocampos replaces Steven Bergwijn due to injury.
Substitution, Ajax. Youri Baas replaces Daley Blind.
Goal! Ajax 4, Rangers 0 Steven Bergwijn (Ajax) left footed shot from the center of the box to the bottom left corner.
Substitution Rangers. Steven Davis replaces Glen Kamara.
Offside, Ajax. Steven Berghuis tries a through ball, but Dusan Tadic is caught offside.
VAR decision: No goal Ajax 3-0 Rangers.
Off Rangers. John Lundstram tries a through ball, but Ryan Kent is caught offside.
Foul by Mohammed Kudus (Ajax).
James Sands (Rangers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.