Ibrahimovic, Van der Vaart & Sneijder – Ajax's last Champions League quarterfinal

Ajax is set to feature in the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2002-03 after stunning Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Ajax in action against AC Milan during their Champions League quarter-final clash in 2002-03   -  Getty Images

Ajax's jaw-dropping rout of Champions League holder Real Madrid was 16 years in the making.

Prior to Tuesday's unforgettable 4-1 humiliation of three-time reigning champion Madrid that sealed a 5-3 aggregate victory, Ajax had not been among the quarterfinalists of Europe's premier club competition since 2002-03.

Led by Ronald Koeman that season and boasting emerging stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, Andy van der Meyde and Maxwell, Ajax fell to eventual champion AC Milan in the last eight.

Eredivisie champion in 2001-02, Ajax advanced from the first group phase along with Inter thanks to Swedish sensation Ibrahimovic.

Eredivisie champion in 2001-02, Ajax advanced from the first group phase along with Inter thanks to Swedish sensation Ibrahimovic.   -  getty images

 

Ibrahimovic – who would go on to join Serie A giant Juventus in 2004 – scored three goals in Group D as Ajax finished runner-up to Inter, while Van der Vaart added two of his own.

With the Champions League featuring a second group stage at the time – which included eight group winners and eight runners-up in four groups – Ajax was drawn with Arsenal, Valencia and Roma.

Ajax went through Group B as the only undefeated team, drawing five of its six matches to join winner Valencia in the knockout round.

The club's only victory in Group B came at home to Roma on matchday two as Ibrahimovic – who finished the phase with two goals – and Jari Litmanen saw off Gabriel Batistuta and the Italians.

Ajax's qualification was secured by its draw away to Roma and Valencia's victory over Arsenal on the final matchday.

Its success pitted it against Italian powerhouse Milan in the quarterfinals.

Carlo Ancelotti's Milan – headlined by Paolo Maldini, former Ajax star Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso and Andriy Shevchenko – was frustrated in a goalless draw on the road in Amsterdam on April 8, 2003.

Ajax travelled to San Siro just over a fortnight later and scored two away goals but it was not enough as the Rossoneri advanced all the way to the Champions League final.

Fast forward to this season, and Ajax's famed production line, spearheaded by Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, has Erik ten Hag and the four-time European champion dreaming of something special.