Here’s what happened in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, in case you missed it…
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WHAT STOOD OUT
A wild night in Kiev saw Real Madrid get the better of Liverpool in an epic and entertaining final to become European champions for a 13th time, and the first team to win three consecutive titles in the Champions League era.
Here’s what stood out:
Bale’s spectacular goal
With the game tied 1-1, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane decided to bring Gareth Bale off the bench in the 61st minute at the expense of Isco. The Spaniards badly needed a spark in attack – Cristiano Ronaldo flattered to deceive on the night, and Liverpool had momentum after tying things up just nine minutes earlier through Sadio Mane. Bale wasted little time in announcing his presence, scoring one of the all-time great goals in UEFA Champions League history a mere two minutes after stepping onto the pitch.
Brazilian defender Marcelo floated a cross from the left flank into the box where an unmarked Bale connected on a marvellous bicycle kick. The Welshman’s overhead kick majestically sailed through the air, looped beyond the reach of Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius and nestled into the top right-hand corner. It was a fantastic goal, drawing instant comparisons to Ronaldo’s bicycle kick goal against Juventus in the quarterfinals. It was a strike worthy of winning any match, especially the biggest club tournament final in the world.
The crying game
Saturday’s final took an interesting turn in the first half when Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah and Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos got tangled up during a challenge and fell to the pitch in a heap. Salah bore the brunt of it, though, as he was clutching his shoulder. He played on for a little bit, but the pain was too much, and the Egyptian had to be subbed out after 30 minutes. Salah was distraught, and was crying as Liverpool’s trainers helped him off the field.
The tears continued to flow just seven minutes later when Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal limped out of the game with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. The Spaniard, like Salah before him, began to weep as he walked off the pitch – it was the second Champions League final in which he had to leave after picking up an injury – and was replaced by Nacho Fernandez.
But it was Liverpool who suffered more than Real after being forced into making a switch. According to noted soccer statistician Paul Carr, the Premier League side recorded nine shots on net in the first half with Salah on the pitch, and none after he was subbed out. With Salah in the game, Liverpool had 56 touches in the final third of the pitch compared to 21 for Real Madrid in the first half. For the rest of the half after Salah’s exit, Madrid had 65 touches compared to just one – ONE! – for Liverpool.
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 26, 2018
It was not the best outing by Liverpool’s Loris Karius, as the German made two horrendous gaffes that led directly to goals.
Early in the second half, Karius caught the ball on the edge of his box, and immediately attempted to roll it out to a teammate. Karim Benzema, who was only a few yards away, made a heads up play in sticking out his leg to cut out Karius’ attempt, and the ball rolled into the back of the net as Real Madrid took a 1-0 lead.
Karim Benzema sticks his foot out to block Karius' pass and scores
— 90MinutesChicago (@90MinutesChi) May 26, 2018
The Karius horror show didn’t end there. With Real Madrid up 2-1, Bale unleashed a powerful shot from 35 yards out. It was at a perfect height for Loris to stop, but the ball went through his fingers as he attempted to punch it out of danger.
There can only be once choice.
Cristiano Ronaldo showed a genuine touch of class and sportsmanship when he walked over to Mohamed Salah to console the Egyptian as he walked off the pitch in tears with a shoulder injury.
Great sportsmanship by @Cristiano Ronaldo
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) May 26, 2018
Liverpool carved open Real Madrid’s back line in the 23rd minute, but Roberto Firmino’s touch inside the box let him down and his weak shot was blocked by Sergio Ramos. Still, the ball broke favourably for teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold. His attempt on goal was expertly stopped by Keylor Navas, who did very well to get down to his right to deny the Liverpool teenager.
THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Toni Kroos was a model of passing efficiency on the night, especially in the first half when Liverpool edged the game and routinely carved open Real Madrid’s defence. The German’s steady play when in possession, abetted by his exemplary passing, helped the Spaniards weather the storm and get to the half tied at 0-0.
BURNING QUESTION OF THE DAY
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane used the same starting 11 on Saturday as in last year’s final against Juventus.
• Liverpool’s starting line-up on Saturday was the youngest (26 years, 170 days) in a Champions League final since Borussia Dortmund in 2013 (25 years, 255 days). Jurgen Klopp managed both teams.
• Karim Benzema is the first French player to score in a Champions League final since Zinedine Zidane in 2002.
• Liverpool’s Sadio Mane of Senegal is only the fourth African player to score in a European Cup/Champions League final (Rabah Madjer, Algeria), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) and Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast).
• Zinedine Zidane is the first manager to win the European Cup/Champions League in three consecutive season.
• Real Madrid is the first team to win the European Cup/Champions League in three consecutive seasons since Bayern Munich (1974-1976).
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Gareth Bale, Real Madrid: Talk about making an immediate impact! Exactly 122 seconds after entering the game, the Welshman scored that amazing goal. He added a second goal later on, becoming the first substitute to score a brace in a European/Champions League final.
2) Sadio Mane, Liverpool: Scored Liverpool’s lone goal, and brilliantly served as the Reds’ main reference point in attack, especially after Mohamed Salah was subbed out due to injury.
3) Toni Kroos, Real Madrid: A quiet but masterful game from the German, who helped los Blancos control the midfield for long periods of time with his composed possession and distribution.