Manchester City needs to win in Dortmund and even that may not be enough for the English champion to stay in a European competition this season.
City is already out of the Champions League and the best it can hope for is a place in the Europa League. Even that is not entirely in its own hands.
Borussia Dortmund is assured of winning Group D and Real Madrid is through as the second-place team. In order to progress to the much less glamorous Europa League, City must beat Dortmund on Tuesday and hope for Ajax not to win in Madrid the same night.
Amsterdam will host the final of the Europa League in May so Ajax will have an extra motive to win in Madrid.
Going into the final round of group matches, Dortmund has 11 points, Real eight, Ajax four and City three.
The match in Dortmund is City's last chance to get a victory in the group and salvage some pride — but it has lost all away games so far.
Dinamo Zagreb, Montpellier and Nordsjaelland are the only other teams that have failed to win a game in the Champions League this season.
City remains unbeaten in the Premier League after drawing 1-1 at the weekend at home to Everton to remain second behind rival Manchester United.
"Our strikers aren't firing on all cylinders at the moment and not scoring enough goals, but they worked hard today and they will have periods like that during the season," coach Roberto Mancini said after the draw with Everton.
"We are not going to go through the season winning every game and sometimes you have to accept that it is not your way and take something out of the game, which we did."
Defender Maicon said City was making progress and will win the Champions League — eventually.
"It is a great club and is working to get better in the Champions League. You can see us progressing on a monthly basis. The club is growing all the time, and sooner or later City will win the Champions League because everyone is working for that," Maicon said.
"They are great players here (in the Premier League), but they need more experience of the Champions League. You have to tune in to playing in Europe, as it is very different to playing in your home league. We are playing for pride on Tuesday, but also for practical reasons, because we want to carry on playing in Europe, even if it is not in the top competition.
"The Europa League is important to us, so we need to try to stay in Europe until the end of the season if we can," Maicon said.
Cristiano Ronaldo dominated Saturday night as Real Madrid extended its winning streak against Atletico Madrid to 24 straight matches since its last loss to its cross-city rivals in 1999 with a 2-0 victory in front of a packed Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Ronaldo scored a perfectly struck free kick and fed Mesut Oezil for the second, apart from hitting the post twice.
Ajax warmed up for the trip to Madrid by beating bitter rival PSV Eindhoven 3-1 in the Dutch league.