Gareth Bale scored the winner for Real Madrid in the Champions League final, just as he did back in 2014. (Getty)
Real Madrid’s fourth Champions League final victory in five years was a story of two absurd goals. It was a story of ridiculous talent and ridiculously good fortune. And it was fitting. Because that deadly combination has been the story of Real’s unprecedented threepeat.
Los Blancos ended Liverpool’s wonderful run one step short of glory with a 3-1 victory in Kiev on Saturday, in a game that had everything. It had the bizarre and the brilliant. It had wonder and heartbreak.
And it was decided by one of the best Champions League final goals in the history of the event. Gareth Bale, who won the first of Real’s four European titles in five years with an extra-time winner in 2014, won the fourth with a majestic bicycle kick:
It proved to be the final twist of a topsy-turvy, entrancing match.
Bale then punctuated his supersub performance with a swerving, stinging drive from 30 yards out. Loris Karius couldn’t handle it. Liverpool, in the end, couldn’t handle the biggest stage of all. It couldn’t handle the inevitability of the threepeat.
The match began with Liverpool pressure, and with the Reds the better of the two teams for the opening half-hour. Sadio Mane threatened Madrid in behind. Trent Alexander-Arnold stung the palms of Keylor Navas. Real Madrid, so accustomed to that grand stage, looked slightly rattled.
But one of several pivotal moments arrived just before the 30-minute mark. Mohamed Salah was pulled down by Sergio Ramos, and forced to exit with a suspected shoulder injury. He trudged off the field in tears, devastated.
And suddenly, Liverpool’s dominance evaporated.
The game exploded into life after halftime, but in bizarre fashion. Karim Benzema stuck out a hopeful right foot as Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius attempted to launch an attack. Benzema blocked Karius’ throw, and the ball trickled directly into the Liverpool net. The two-time defending champs, via an absurd goal of a different kind, were ahead.
And perhaps they deserved to be. Isco, after all, had pinged a half-volley off the crossbar minutes earlier. But the game didn’t deserve to be decided by such a fluky opener. And Mane ensured it wouldn’t be
The Senegalese forward pounced on Dejan Lovren’s knockdown five minutes later and poked it past a diving Navas on the doorstep:
Justice was served. Liverpool was level. The game was back in the balance, just as the balance of play, over 55 minutes, suggested it should have been.
But Bale was introduced on the hour mark, in place of Isco, and he changed the game. Just as he had back in 2014, he won Real Madrid the biggest prize of all. And he capped off a remarkable run of European dominance.
Karuis, who was solely responsible for two of the three Madrid goals, was in tears after the game:
But perhaps this isn’t about Karius. Perhaps there is just something about this Real Madrid team. Something that gives opposing goalkeepers the hiccups. Bayern Munich’s Sven Ulreich suffered the same fate.
Perhaps there is just something inexorable about Real Madrid’s ultimate triumphs. It was not the better team in its semifinal against Bayern. It was not the better team on Saturday with both sides at full strength. But it sniffs out and punishes weakness. It rises to occasions time and time again. Its talent – its bottomless, seemingly superfluous talent – rises above whenever necessary.
And its fourth Champions League title in five years, its third in a row – it’s the first team in the competition’s modern history to accomplish either feat – is the latest, greatest emblem of its untouchable excellence.
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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.
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