A wonder goal for the ages from Gareth Bale earned Real Madrid their 13th European crown in a 3-1 triumph over Liverpool in the Champions League Final on Saturday night at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev.
Three minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute in the 61st, the Welshman produced the spectacular, firing in an overhead kick that will surely become a YouTube favourite for many years to come.
Bale’s strike was preceded by a bizarre opener from Karim Benzema, who scored by blocking a throw from Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius with his leg, before Sadio Mane pulled the Reds level. Following his sensational goal, Bale would tack on another thanks to another error from Karius, thus sealing Real’s third straight Champions League title and fourth in five years.
The same starting XI that produced the 12th European crown for Real was relied upon to deliver the 13th, as manager Zinedine Zidane used the exact same line-up that defeated Juventus 4-1 in last year’s final, meaning Bale was relegated to the bench.
It was a nervy start for Real. The high press utilised by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s team was making Real uncomfortable and prevented Zidane’s team from initially finding a rhythm. They were unsettled and imprecise with their passes and it allowed Liverpool to have the better of play in the first 15 minutes.
Liverpool’s hopes then took a huge blow when leading scorer Mohamed Salah could not continue after going down hard on his shoulder in a collision with Sergio Ramos. The Egypt international tried to play on but the pain proved too much, forcing Klopp to replace him with Adam Lallana.
Real was not immune to the injury bug either, and like Salah, Dani Carvajal left the pitch in tears with an apparent hamstring injury that will put his World Cup in jeopardy. Fortunately for Zidane, he could call upon the always-reliable Nacho to replace the right-back.
The Salah exit affected Liverpool more though and Real had the momentum on their side. It was all there to sneak a goal in before half-time when Isco picked out Ronaldo, but Liverpool stopper Loris Karius came up with a massive save on the header.
Liverpool stayed on the ropes at the start of the second-half and Isco could not have asked for a better chance after a poor clearance but instead he rang his right-footed shot off the crossbar.
But even the most optimistic of Real supporters would not have believed how their team would score the first goal, as a lackadaisical throw from Karius was blocked by the leg of Benzema and to the astonishment of everyone, the ball rolled into the Liverpool net to make it 1-0 to Real.
Liverpool were indignant, angry and fired up. It was just the thing that reignited the Reds and a few minutes after Benzema’s bizarre goal, Mane scored to draw Liverpool level 1-1 when he redirected in Dejan Lovren’s header off a corner kick.
After taking in the first hour of the match from the bench, Bale was summoned by Zidane to come in for Isco and provide more punch to the Real attack, and what the Welshman would produce minutes later will be remembered for many years to come.
Marcelo floated in a pass from the left and Bale, with the most exquisite of touches, hit an overhead kick with his left foot that went into the top left corner of the net, stunning everyone and giving Real a 2-1 advantage.
Liverpool weren’t about to throw in the towel though, and Mane came achingly close to equalising again, this time with a strike that hit the post. But the spaces Liverpool were leaving in defence in search of a second goal were being taken advantage of by Real and Ronaldo was about to make it three only for Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson to make a last-ditch clearance. Later it was Benzema with a chance to ice things, but Karius stood tall and made the block.
Yet the young Liverpool goalkeeper would once again commit another error, and this one put the nail in the Reds’ coffin. From long-distance Bale sent in a dipping ball and Karius made a mess of it, allowing the ball to roll off his fists and into net to make it 3-1 to Real.
It was too much for Liverpool to overcome and Real confidently saw out the final minutes to begin a celebration that has become an annual occurrence in the Spanish capital.
3.- Real Madrid: Keylor; Carvajal (Nacho, min. 37), Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, Isco (Bale, min. 61); Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema.
1.- Liverpool: Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Milner; Mane, Salah (Lallana, min. 30), Firmino.
Goals: 1-0, min. 51: Benzema; 1-1, min. 55: Mane; 2-1, min. 64: Bale; 3-1, min. 83: Bale.
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia).
Yellow cards: Mane (Min. 82) for Liverpool.
Red cards: None.
Stadium: NSC Olimpiyskiy.