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'Almost impossible' to keep team together after Madrid demolition job, says Ajax boss

The Amsterdam side reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 16 years last night.

The Ajax team who demolished European champions Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
The Ajax team who demolished European champions Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

RIK TEN HAG says he hopes to keep the current crop of Ajax players together after their surprise 4-1 victory over Real Madrid, but admits it will be “almost impossible” to keep them away from Europe’s top teams.

Ajax sent shockwaves through the Champions League after stunning holders Madrid in the return leg of their last-16 tie at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.

Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, Dusan Tadic and Lasse Schone helped Ajax overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit as the Dutch giants triumphed 5-3 on aggregate en route to the quarter-finals.

Ajax have already agreed to sell star midfielder Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona this summer in a €75 million deal, but other talents are expected to follow. Captain Matthijs De Ligt, 19, has also caught the eye of Europe’s richest clubs, while Neres, Donny van de Beek and Nicolas Tagliafico are also expected to attract offers in the near future.

But coach Ten Hag hopes the club can convince the majority of players to stay and continue to develop as a team.

“I hope we’re going to be able to keep this group together, as much as possible,” he told Ziggo Sport. “It would be great to develop even more, but it’s almost impossible in modern football. Players leave at early ages. It’s almost unstoppable, but it would be great to work with this group for a couple more years.”

Ajax will feature in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2002-03, but Ten Hag hopes they can continue to impress this season, even targeting a European and domestic treble.

“We must live by the day,” he said during his post-match news conference. “We are progressing a lot as a team and individually.

“It’s only the start of March and we can still win three trophies. So, it’s a great year, that’s a compliment for the team. The trophies will be lifted at the end of the season.

“We can enjoy this win, but it’s already a great season. But we wanted to achieve more. That’s what we are hunting for now.”

Ten Hag added:

It’s confirmation of our philosophy in the Netherlands and especially Ajax. In our history we won many trophies: the biggest trophy, the Champions League, and also many league titles. But the football climate has changed. The big leagues have grown.

“As small nations, it’s hard to compete with the big money. So, therefore, it’s a great victory. But we want more. The next match we will prepare very well and we play with courage and confidence.”

- Omni

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