KIEV, Ukraine — In years to come, this Real Madrid team will not remember the details of how it moved from mere greatness to genuine legend, of how it etched its name in history alongside the very best club teams soccer has ever produced. They will not matter.
Like the Ajax of Johan Cruyff, the Bayern Munich of Franz Beckenbauer and the Real Madrid of Alfredo di Stefano, this is now a team that has won the European Cup three times in a row. In 2016, it saw off Atletico Madrid on penalties, in 2017, Juventus, in a 4-1 romp; and now, in 2018, a 3-1 win against Liverpool. That is what counts — the victory, the trophy, the glory — for a club that measures its worth in silver and in gold.
They are what will remain: everything else will fade. True, the second of its three goals will be talked about for some time, whenever an argument emerges about the best goal scored in the Champions League final. Gareth Bale’s gravity-defying overhead kick merits a place alongside the volley scored by his manager, Zinedine Zidane, in the 2002 final. It was a goal worthy of a place in history.
The other two, though, will not feature much in Madrid’s collective memory. They will, however, haunt Liverpool — and Loris Karius, its goalkeeper — for some time. One mistake, in a game of this size, would have been harrowing enough; to make two, and for them to prove so decisive, may be too much for Karius to bear.
The first was scarcely believable, the German goalkeeper rolling the ball on to Karim Benzema’s foot and then watching, horror-stricken, as the ball trickled over the line. A few minutes later, Sadio Mané equalized for Liverpool; Karius, more than most, owed him a debt of gratitude.
If there was little he could do about Bale’s first strike, he might certainly have stopped the Welshman’s second, the one that finished the game, a long range effort that Karius misjudged and wafted into the goal. From that moment on, Real’s place in history was secure. Karius’s ignominy, too. At the end, he lay on the floor, face down, a picture of misery. It was two Real Madrid players, Nacho Hernandez and Marco Asensio, who went to him first, to try to offer some solace. The gesture was kind; the effect, surely, minimal.
That is not the only what if that will linger with Liverpool: so, too, the question of what might have happened had Mohamed Salah, its star, not been forced off with an injury sustained in a tussle with Sergio Ramos — the latter very much doing most of the tussling — after 30 minutes. Before that, Liverpool was in the ascendancy; after, its confidence drained, Real grew in belief, its sheer confidence enough to carry it over the line, for the third time in three years, to victory, and to history.
Rory Smith and Andrew Das of The Times tracked the final. To relive it as it happened, read on:
The Final Whistle: Real Madrid 3, Liverpool 1
Gareth Bale’s two goals off the bench — one a wonder, the other a blunder — gave Real Madrid a 3-1 victory in the Champions League final on Saturday.
The victory was Madrid’s third in a row in the tournament, a feat unseen in the competition since Bayern Munich won three consecutive European Cups from 1974-76. It gave Madrid 13 titles over all, extending its Champions League record, and four in the past five years.
Liverpool, playing in the final for the first time since 2007, lost its star striker Mohamed Salah to a shoulder injury in the first half hour, and while it gave a game effort — tying the score at 1-1 early in the second half — Real Madrid’s relentlessness and unmatched depth simply wore them down.
You really have to salute Bale, who has scored two wonderful goals in yet another Champions League final. But you also have to feel for Loris Karius, a 24-year-old German who wrested the starting job away from Simon Mignolet this season.
It’s tough to live down a gigantic mistake in a Champions League final. Imagine what it’ll be like to live with two of them.
He Just …. Dropped It
Oh Dear: Another Karius Mistake
Bale tries a what-the-heck attempt from about 35 yards on the right, and the knuckling ball slips right through the hands of Karius. No other way to say it: that’s an all-time howler, a blunder that may have cost Liverpool the Champions League title.
the locker room to figure out just what the heck to do now.
Now Carvajal Is Off!
Now it’s Dani Carvajal who is leaving, replaced by Nacho after sustaining his own injury. Like Salah, he is among the best players in the world at his position. And like Salah, he departs in tears, his World Cup suddenly in doubt, too. (Carvajal is Spanish.)
d Klopp tries to give him a hug as he crosses the touchline.
A half-hour in, and Adam Lallana, a fine player but no Salah, is on.
Scare for Liverpool
Mohamed Salah goes off briefly to receive treatment on his left shoulder after falling on it awkwardly as he was pulled down by defender Sergio Ramos. All of Liverpool — and all of Egypt — holds its breath, but he’s back on after a moment.
But now he’s down again and seems distraught. Uh oh. This is an enormous moment.
Two Turnovers, Two Chances
Carvajal springs Ronaldo down the right after an errant pass in midfield, but his rocket from junst inside the edge of the area screams over the bar. Carvajal then returns the favor for Liverpool, sending a pass directly out of bounds for the game’s first corner. Van Dijk beats Navas to it, but the goalkeeper causes just enough trouble to distract and the header goes over. Twenty minutes in and we have not lacked intensity or chances. Just goals.
It’s worth keeping an eye on whether anyone breaks the taboo as the teams file out and reaches out to brush the trophy with their fingers. It brings nothing but bad luck, they say, as Dimitri Payet found out in the Europa League final 10 days ago.
Other than superstition, it’s hard to pinpoint what, precisely, will decide this game. It has been presented in Spain, in particular, as the most ill-balanced in recent years, a far more straightforward affair for Real — aiming to become the first team since 1976 to win the European Cup three years in a row — than beating Atletico Madrid in 2016 or Juventus last year.
Liverpool would contest that, believing Klopp’s intense style — those devastating surges that swept aside Manchester City and Roma on the way here — can do just as much damage to Real. Most finals tend to look, in the build-up, like tense, tight affairs: one goal, one way or the other, could be decisive.
Perhaps that is the way this will go, too, but at the same time it is hardly inconceivable that one or other team will wreak havoc. Real’s star quality makes them favorites — Zinedine Zidane’s players know this stage — but if there is one club that believes itself as touched by destiny in Europe as Madrid, it is Liverpool. That trophy is central to the identity of both of these teams. Neither will give up on it without a fight.
The Stadium Is Filling, the Teams Have Arrived
From Rory in Kiev: The NSC Olympiskiy in Kiev is starting to fill with fans: a few thousand are in the north curve of the stadium, reserved for Liverpool; “Allez Allez Allez,” the soundtrack to the club’s season, is booming out. A vast cheer went up, a little after 8:20 p.m. local time, when Liverpool’s distinctive cherry red bus was shown arriving at the stadium. An even bigger one was reserved for the first glimpse of Mohamed Salah.
There are only a few hundred people, so far, in the bright white of Real Madrid in the south end: many more are choosing to linger outside, in the warm sunshine of downtown Kiev, or (more likely) struggling to make it through stringent, but brisk, security checks.
For all the doubts about the suitability of the city as a venue for club soccer’s biggest game, for all the logistical challenges fans have faced to get here and for all the inflated hotel prices they have had to pay to find a bed, Kiev —now Kyiv, as the locals waste no time in pointing out — has pulled out all the stops. Khreschatyk, the main shopping boulevard, has been closed off as a fan zone; traffic has been barred from much of the center all day. Whitney Houston has been blaring out of vast speakers on Maidan, the city’s Independence Square, all day, for reasons that do not remain entirely clear, as fans passed the long hours before evening, and the moment they have awaited all season.