They have since featured in ten European finals, and won them all. This was the latest. It’s reached the point where one suspects they have forgotten how to lose because Madrid were not at their best here. They were reliant on a stunning performance from goalkeeper Thibault Courtois and slack defending from Trent Alexander-Arnold as they became European champions for the 14th time.
It affected some deliciously cold revenge on the last side to beat them in a European Cup final – Liverpool. That was in Paris too, in 1981. The irony was enough to make Carlo Ancelotti arch an eyebrow. This time last year he was still manager of Everton. The first anniversary of this second spell back in charge of Real Madrid does not fall until Wednesday.
The Italian has added the big-eared trophy to the La Liga title. Not bad for 12 months’ work and having left the Goodison Park club in tenth place in the Premier League. He did manage to beat Liverpool during his shot stay in Merseyside and he did so again here to the delight of Evertonians everywhere.
Andy Robertson cut a particularly desolate figure at the end. The full-back had been one of Liverpool’s better performers on an ultimately bitter night for the Anfield side.
Only half-a-dozen Scottish footballers have played and won a European Cup final more than eleven. Robertson was hoping to join the Nottingham Forest trio of Kenny Burns, John McGovern and John Robertson and Anfield predecessors Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen in this very distinguished roll of honour.
The last three actually won the European Cup three times. This was Robertson’s second defeat in three final appearances and he must lift himself before Scotland’s vital World Cup play-off semi-final against Ukraine on Wednesday. He and his team-mates must be satisfied with just the FA Cup and League Cup from a season when they stood on the brink of history.
Delays dominated a stressful, sometimes shameful night in Paris. Fans were left waiting outside a stadium where the organization left a lot to be desired. Even when the majority of supporters were finally inside the Stade de France they were forced to endure a hold up as VAR took its time to rule on an offside call made by the linesman after Karim Benzema scored shortly before half-time. At least three minutes passed before the goal was disallowed with the ball judged to have been accidentally deflected off two Liverpool players, Ibrahima Konate and Fabinho, into the path of the Frenchman, who had only Robertson between him and the goal-line.
Chaos reigned outside the stadium. Kick-off was put back not once but twice. The game would in all probability have been a cagey affair even without the pre-match issues that meant the players re-appeared for a second warm-up. Champions League finals have tended to be less than enthralling contests of late. Just one goal had decided the two previous occasions and it was no surprise to see the latest so-called biggest game in club football struggle to emerge from the weight of its own hype. The off-field distractions cannot have helped, likewise the delays. But it was a long way from a classic between two historic clubs.
After numerous issues afflicting the recent Europa League final between Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt, UEFA again demonstrated they cannot be trusted to stage the final of a major tournament. Even the players themselves looked concerned as they lined up at the start and scanned the stands, where the empty seats told their own story.
The biggest game in club football eventually got going at 9.36pm local time but there was still concerning footage of fans clogged in the narrow arteries outside. Some clips even showed desperate fans scaling fences to get in.
When Real Madrid took the lead 14 minutes into the second half it was nearly 11pm local time. It was a stunningly simple goal that must have dismayed Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who saw Federico Valverde’s cross travel too far across the box. But it was Alexander-Arnold’s lack of awareness that really cost Liverpool. Vinicius Jr ghosted in behind him and tapped and slid the ball into the net. Many suspected the battle between Alexander-Arnold and the precocious Brazilian might be pivotal. A full-back – Alan Kennedy – won this trophy for Liverpool the last time the two sides met in the French capital. Sadly, one was at fault here.
Vinicius Jr showed composure but was not the star man. Not by a long shot. Or maybe that should be not by several stunning saves. Courtois started as he meant to go on, stopping Mohamed Salah’s flick low to his left after 15 minutes. It was the first goalmouth action of any note. His best save of the night came five minutes later when he dived to his right to tip Sadio Mane’s shot onto the post with his fingertips while at full stretch. Another block, late in the second half from Salah, secured victory.
Liverpool did make it easy for him sometimes too. Salah headed straight at him when in a good position 11 minutes before half-time. Other times, he was inspired and he was mobbed by his teammates at the end of a long, initially difficult night in Paris.
But nothing could deflect Real Madrid from their purpose and, it increasingly seems, the club’s birthright. They had already overcome Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City en route. “When Madrid play finals, they win it,” said Courtois at the end. True – since 1983, at least.
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