Gareth Bale came off the bench to score one of the great goals in Champions League history and add to Loris Karius’ personal ordeal by sealing Real Madrid’s third consecutive European title with a 3-1 win over Liverpool.
Much of the pre-match build-up centred on the anticipated battle between star forwards Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo in Kiev, but the duel was cut short before the half hour when Liverpool’s talisman suffered an apparent shoulder injury.
The 25-year-old landed awkwardly on his left shoulder after grappling with Sergio Ramos, while Ronaldo remained on the periphery throughout.
Step forward Bale.
With the game locked at 1-1 in the 64th minute and 122 seconds after replacing Isco – who earlier hit the crossbar – Bale scored an overhead kick of rare brilliance.
122 – It took Gareth Bale just 122 seconds to score versus Liverpool after coming on as a substitute. Majestic. #UCLfinal #RMALFC pic.twitter.com/LIcUmIn4L9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 26, 2018
The first goal six minutes into the second half was as farcical as Bale’s opening salvo was fabulous – Karim Benzema the beneficiary of goalkeeping incompetence from Karius, much like he was against Bayern Munich and Sven Ulreich in the semi-finals.
Sadio Mane found a swift response for Liverpool but Bale, benched frequently by Zinedine Zidane on the big occasions this term, had other ideas.
Karius had no chance on that occasion but seven minutes from time he pushed the Welshman’s speculative drive tamely into his net, confirming Madrid as European champions for the 13th time in their illustrious history, while Jurgen Klopp suffered more final heartbreak.
Dani Carvajal was one of a number of Madrid defenders to make a ragged start and the right-back’s abysmal attempted back pass in the 18th minute resulted in a Liverpool corner that Keylor Navas misjudged but Virgil van Dijk headed wide.
The Madrid goalkeeper’s work in holding Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 15-yard drive was far more impressive after Ramos got in the way of a Roberto Firmino shot.
A confident Liverpool showing was then cruelly derailed as Salah tangled with Ramos, landed heavily on his left shoulder and remained on the turf in anguish, later trying and failing to continue.
He was soon followed tearfully down the tunnel by hamstring victim Carvajal, but it was Madrid who responded better.
An offside flag denied Benzema the opener after Karius magnificently kept out a Ronaldo header.
Liverpool began the second half still in their post-Salah haze and, when the Egyptian’s replacement Adam Lallana lost his footing, Isco guided a shot flush against the crossbar.
Even allowing for the overall lack of poise Klopp’s men were showing, it was impossible to foresee Karius’ inexplicable absent-mindedness in the 51st minute. Benzema instinctively stuck out a boot to block an attempted throw from the keeper and could not believe his luck as the ball trickled home.
2 – Loris Karius has made more errors leading to goals tonight (2) than he did in his previous 32 competitive apps for Liverpool this season in 2017-18. Stage. pic.twitter.com/gLTFfiOUPC
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 26, 2018
The nature of the setback made Liverpool’s response four minutes later all the more impressive.
Dejan Lovren rose highest to meet James Milner’s corner and Mane was on the move, reacting sharply to divert the ball past Navas.
Karius partially atoned for his error by touching an Isco shot around the post – the Spain playmaker’s last contribution before making way for Bale, who was utterly sublime.
Twisting into position as Marcelo’s chipped cross floated behind him, Bale leapt skywards and met the ball with the outside of his left boot. His precise contact sent it dipping under the bar and into the top-left corner.
In Salah’s absence, Mane was leading the Liverpool charge and fizzed a left-footed drive against the base of the post in the 70th minute.
A last-ditch challenge from Andrew Robertson thwarted an unusually hesitant Ronaldo and Karius acrobatically denied Benzema, but the other two members of the BBC need not have worried. This was to go down as Bale’s night.
Unfortunately for Liverpool’s German goalkeeper, it will also be one forever associated with Karius after he limply made a hash of the match-winner’s 30-yard strike seven minutes from time, with Klopp falling to defeat for his sixth final in a row.
Key Opta facts:
– Real Madrid have become the first team to win the European Cup/Champions League in three successive seasons since Bayern Munich between 1974 and 1976.
– English teams have suffered a defeat in their last seven UEFA club competition finals against Spanish opposition (4 x Champions League Finals, 3 x UEFA Cup/Europa League finals).
– Zinedine Zidane is just the third manager to win the European Cup/Champions League three times (after Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti), but the first to win it in three consecutive seasons.
– Jurgen Klopp has now lost six of his seven major finals as manager (2 x DFB-Pokal, 2 x Champions League, 1 x League Cup, 1 x UEFA Europa League), only winning the DFB-Pokal with Borussia Dortmund in 2012.
– Real Madrid started with the same XI as in the 2016-17 Champions League final; the first time a team has started with the same 11 players in different European Cup/Champions League finals (excluding replays).