On the eve of the Champions League final, Carlo Ancelotti said the sentence was frightening. “In the most difficult moments this season, the history of this club helped us,” said the Real Madrid Italia coach. By history, he meant the 13 Champions League titles won by Real Madrid on Saturday, giving the Spanish record-breaking champions so much grandeur that the newly rich like Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City fell by the wayside.
On Saturday, at the Stade de France, Madridistas faced a team with a very complex pedigree: Liverpool FC led by Jurgen Klopp, who won six European Premier League titles. But: Real Madrid won, home style. That means: 1-0 – and without worrying about shaping up the final with footballing elegance, but with unforgiving efficiency in both penalty areas.
Vinicius Junior scored the winning goal, but the real winner of the match was: Thibaut Courtois. What an outrageous goalkeeper this Belgian is. Not only did he secure his side’s 14th title in club football’s biggest competition with several great saves – but also transformed coach Carlo Ancelotti into the first-ever coach to win the Champions League for the fourth time.
“Have you seen a goalkeeper performance like this before? Yes, Courtois!” said Ancelotti. “In Paris they used to say: Ici c’est Real Madrid.” English: This is Real Madrid. This is the eighth consecutive time that Real Madrid has won the Champions League final. Last final loss: 1981 against Liverpool.
Thefts, locked entrances, frenzied police – the final starts late
The match started with a 37-minute delay. The reason: There were chaotic scenes outside the stadium gates. According to UEFA, an unspecified number of fans without tickets tried to enter the stadium. These two were Liverpool fans and guys from Paris. Apparently, there were many cell phone thefts – many viewers loaded their card on their phones. The security forces were completely exhausted. Police used force, including pepper spray, against the intruders. In order to control the situation, the entrances to the stadium were closed in a short time. It was not clear how many people were without tickets inside the Stade de France when the match kicked off, as Real Madrid and Liverpool legends Raul and Ian Rush took the bet to the field. Obviously there was a few.
The decks contain no surprises. The biggest uncertainty revolves around Liverpool’s Thiago, who ultimately had an unexplained concern last week that he tore a muscle fibre. While warming up, he seemed to feel uncomfortable again. In the end he can play. He was instrumental in Liverpool’s control of the first half, which ended in riots.
Benzema scores – but the goal from a dark scene does not count
Liverpool faced an opponent who defended deeply and strategically – and fundamentally suffered the sidelines of Luka Modric. Toni Kroos in particular bears the burden of giving structure to his game. Chances in the first half were almost exclusively owned by the Reds. Salah alone made three dangerous shots (16/17/34). The best chance, however, was for Sadio Mane, who is being discussed at Bayern Munich. He shot from a distance of 15 meters after 21 minutes, but Real Madrid goalkeeper Courtois saved the shot brilliantly at the post. Just before the break, excitement followed. A goal scored by Real Madrid captain Karim Benzema was disallowed for offside and was difficult to explain.
Benzema snatched the ball from the sky in the penalty area and kicked Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson off balance with a body trick. Valverde tried to get his back pass to Benzema, but, confusingly, he was only able to do so because two Liverpool players grabbed the ball before the ball went back to the Frenchman. However, these touches were classified as uncontrolled bounces – the goal disqualification was in effect even after the video referee checked it out.
Real Madrid were more involved after the break – and saw that effort culminate in a Vinicius Jr. goal. Casemiro had sent Federico Valverde down the right flank. With the Uruguayan not interfering, he had ample and calm space to put the ball sharply. He didn’t find Benzema – but he did find Vinicius Junior at the far post, who just had to push the ball into the empty goal.
Courtois holds it all – and stirs up wrath and fury at Liverpool
So Liverpool had a challenge and built on mastering one or another of the races to catch up in the last few weeks. Jurgen Klopp’s side have won five of their last six competitive matches after falling behind. BUT: In none of these matches was Courtois in the opposite goal. And Saturday was a great gigantic. He saved against Salah with two great saves. First, he converted a 20-meter shot that was superbly spinning and charted a perfect trajectory (64 min). Then, after a header from substitute Diogo Jota, he ran from the right to the left post and was there with a footed defense that would have taken credit to any handball goalkeeper (69).
What followed was primarily a fantastic defense on the part of Real Madrid – and Thibaut Courtois. He blocked a shot that veered dangerously from Jota with a reaction off the line (80′). Two minutes later, another shot from Salah narrowed the angle so much that he grabbed the ball with his forearm. It was that moment when Salah fell to the ground in a fit of rage and anger. Which Courtois probably remembered was on the other side once, in 2014. He saved an Atletico Madrid goal in the Lisbon final. He thought about those days the night before. “I’m on the right side of history now,” he said, and there seemed to be something to this remark.