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Who needs Mbappe? Vinicius strikes as Real Madrid edge Liverpool to Champions League crown

Los Blancos end remarkable season with Champions League trophy

Perennial winners Real Madrid claimed their 14th UEFA Champions League title after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Liverpool in the final held at the Stade de France. The Spanish giants delivered a performance for the ages to defeat their English opposition and claim the trophy.

Both sides came into the game with a good deal of knowledge about each other, having faced off in the quarterfinals last season and in the final in 2018, with Real Madrid emerging victoriously both times. In fact, Los Blancos last lost a Champions League final in 1981, and Liverpool inflicted that defeat.

As was expected, Liverpool started out as the better side, pinning Real Madrid back in their own half and forcing them to make mistakes with their high press early on. Liverpool’s star forward Mohamed Salah had a couple of early snapshots gobbled up by Thibaut Courtois in the Real Madrid goal. Sadio Mane came closest to breaking the deadlock for the Reds as he saw a ferocious effort tipped onto the upright by the excellent Courtois.

Real Madrid settled into the game as the half wore on and were denied a goal by a contentious VAR call. French striker and the competition’s leading scorer this season Karim Benzema had fired home from close range after a loose ball fell kindly into his path in the box, but the striker was in an offside position. Video replays showed that the ball had come off the knee of a sliding Fabinho last, causing a bit of confusion before the goal was chalked off on the stroke of half-time.

Real Madrid fed on that ending to the first half and came out stronger at the start of the second half, and their efforts were duly rewarded just before the hour mark. With a lot of the pre-match buzz having been about the possibility of Los Blancos winning the title in the home city of Kylian Mbappe, it was their own 21-year-old rising star who actually found the net for them. Uruguayan midfielder Federico Valverde showed his industry to keep possession of the ball out wide before sending a low cross into the box. His cross was met by the unmarked Vinicius Junior, who was arriving from the blindside of right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Brazilian winger slammed the ball into an unguarded net before wheeling away in celebration following his 22nd goal of the season. It was his fourth goal in the Champions League this season.

Liverpool tried to claw their way back into the Champions League final but they met a determined Courtois between the sticks for Real Madrid. The Belgian goalkeeper denied Salah from point-blank range after the Liverpool star had broken through opposition lines following a raking ball out of defence. As Liverpool committed men forward in search of an equaliser, Real Madrid spurned a great chance on the break to kill off the tie. Spanish midfielder Dani Ceballos had been played in by a brilliant ball over the top from Benzema, but the substitute was caught in two minds and his slow decision-making allowed the Reds’ defense to recover and snuff out the danger.

Real Madrid had their heroic goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to thank for their win in Paris after he made a record nine saves in the game, more than any goalkeeper has made in a single Champions League final. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has become the first man in history to win the competition four times as a manager. All of Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Isco, Nacho, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale have now won the competition five times each, equalling the record previously held by Cristiano Ronaldo.

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