Real Madrid secured their third successive Champions League trophy – the club’s 13th of its history and fourth in the last five years – on Saturday evening after a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Kiev.
Despite an event-filled opening 45 minutes, in which the Reds lost Mohamed Salah to a shoulder injury and Los Blancos Dani Carvajal through a suspected hamstring problem, the game needed the second half to burst into life, and unfortunately for Loris Karius, it was his mistakes which took most of the headlines.
The German’s first howler came as Karim Benzema stuck out a hopeful leg on the edge of the area – diverting the 24-year-old’s throw into the back of the net before the Anfield man palmed the ball into his own goal following a long-range effort from Gareth Bale.
However, the Welshman’s first attempt – 122 seconds after being brought into proceedings – which came shortly after Sadio Mane netted the leveller, was a goal that will be remembered for the ages, although the final will always go down as a night of what could have been for Jurgen Klopp’s outfit.
An ear-splitting Liverpool entourage greeted their heroes in red as they entered onto the turf of the Olympic Stadium alongside their all-white counterparts to the tune of the Champions League anthem, although the travelling Merseysiders certainly led the sea of sound and colour.
And Klopp’s men seemingly took inspiration from their tumultuous backing, with the Premier League side, somewhat as expected, in the ascendency during the opening exchanges; forcing Raphael Varane to prove his defensive capabilities on more than one occasion as both outfits settled into the tie.
As the half-hour mark approached, despite Cristiano Ronaldo flashing over the crossbar from a tight angle during a rare Real Madrid attack, the Premier League outfit continued to dominate the midfield – effectively muting the threat of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco – however, as a distraught Salah departed the field through injury, there was an almost instantaneous swing.
The Egyptian’s departure, which was forced after appearing to damage his shoulder following a collision with Sergio Ramos, initiated a spell of control for Los Blancos, with the Spaniards seeing more of the ball and Benzema firing his first attempt of the night towards Karius’ goal, although the German remained untested.
Yet three minutes before the break, the Liverpool stopper was indeed called into action, and produced arguably one of the most impressive saves of his Reds career, denying Ronaldo from six yards when it looked destined that Zinedine Zidane’s men were to snatch the lead ahead of the half-time whistle.
A typically inch-perfect cross from the right-hand side produced a scenario which has proved so fruitful for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in the past, particularly in this competition, with the Portuguese finding space at the back post before directing his bullet header back across the face of goal.
Yet a strong hand from Karius diverted the 33-year-old’s corner-destined nod away from goal, and although Benzema turned the rebound in, the scores remained goalless at the break after the linesman ruled the Frenchman offside – certainly a tight call on reflection.
As referee Milorad Mazic got proceedings back underway, Los Blancos’ dominance continued, and Isco came within inches of putting his side into the lead just two minutes following the restart.
A defensive mixup, including Karius, offered the Spain international the opportunity to fire towards an almost unguarded net; however, failing to strike the ball cleanly from the edge of the area forced the 26-year-old’s attempt to crash off the crossbar and away from danger.
But just three minutes later, the German goalkeeper gave the La Liga outfit the ultimate gift as his bizarre lack of concentration allowed Benzema to poke home the opener of the evening.
Attempting to roll possession out towards the Liverpool backline after scooping up a direct through ball met only the boot of the 30-year-old, whose outstretched leg – trying to block the distribution – was enough to find the back of the net.
However, Real Madrid’s advantage lasted less than five minutes, as Mane brought the Reds level with almost their first attack after going behind.
A deep James Milner corner was met by the head of Dejan Lovren, who nodded the ball back across the face of goal towards the 26-year-old, and after getting the better of Marcelo at the near post, the Senegalese attacker volleyed home to bring his side level – sparking scenes of unrivalled ecstasy across most of the Olympic Stadium.
Yet, after being pegged back, Madrid found their stride again, and following the introduction of Bale – replacing Isco – the Spaniard’s one-goal advantage was restored, and there will arguably never be a more fitting finish for the grandest game in club football.
A whipped cross courtesy of Marcelo from deep on the left-hand side looked as though it had missed its intended target of both Ronaldo and Benzema; however, as it travelled the line of the 18-yard box, the Welshman rose through the air with a sensational bicycle kick to find the top corner of Karius’ net – sending Zidane into almost a state of shock on the touchline.
However, as had been the case of the action-packed second half, Liverpool were not willing to accept their fate, and Mane, the man who had already pulled the Premier League outfit back into the contest, rattled the post from range as Los Blancos seemingly switched off after scoring again.
But with just eight minutes remaining, Bale took on Karius once again from range, and the outcome proved to be the same – although the German could not blame a stroke of genius this time.
Picking the ball up from 30 yards, the Wales international had only eyes from goal, and after a speculative effort – aided by yet another goalkeeping howler, in which the 24-year-old allowed the ball to slip through his hands – the net was rippling and the Champions League trophy was heading to the Spanish capital once again.
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