Andre Onana: “Ajax can go toe to toe with Real Madrid”

Ajax v SL Benfica - UEFA Champions League Group E
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 23: Andre Onana of Ajax celebrates after Noussair Mazraoui of Ajax (not pictured) scores his team's first goal during the Group E match of the UEFA Champions League between Ajax and SL Benfica at Johan Cruyff Arena on October 23, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana believes the experience of losing the Europa League final to Manchester United in 2017 was a valuable lesson

Under the now Bayer Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz, a youthful Ajax team unexpectedly reached the final of the Europa League in the 2016/17 campaign.

The likes of Frenkie de Jong, Justin Kluivert and Matthijs de Ligt had all just started out their senior careers in football that season.

Yet, de Godenzonen made it to the final of Europe’s second biggest club competition by defeating the likes of Schalke 04 and Lyon on route.

While things ultimately ended with a 2-0 defeat to United in Sweden, Onana believes the experience will serve them well going up against Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout stages.

“Yes, that. We were young, but that match helped us learn,” the former Barcelona youth player told Marca.

“Thanks to that defeat we now approach really important matches in a different way.

“These matches make you better. We now wouldn’t go out in the same way against Real Madrid.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: Jose Mourinho is seen in the stands prior to the Premier League match between Fulham FC and Everton FC at Craven Cottage on April 13, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Karanka says Mourinho would have been perfect for a Madrid return

The former Real Madrid assistant manager backed Jose Mourinho, saying he would have been just as good as Zinedine Zidane is.

“We are still young, but are more experienced now. We don’t mind whether we play Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Barcelona. We’re prepared to go toe to toe with anyone.

“Then we’ll see who wins, but we’ll go out to put on the pressure as we always do.”

The Cameroon international accepts that Real’s struggles domestically this season though may provide them extra motivation to land a fourth successive European crown.

“Yes, of course,” said Onana.

“This is the best competition for them, the one they want to win the most. Their league situation will make them even hungrier in the Champions League.

“They know how to compete in this competition like nobody else. That’s why they’ve been dominating in the past three years.”

The first leg of Ajax’s last-16 tie against Real will begin on February 13 in Amsterdam.