If there was little he could do about Bale’s first strike, he might certainly have stopped the Welshman’s second, the one that finished the game, a long range effort that Karius misjudged and wafted into the goal. From that moment on, Real’s place in history was secure. Karius’s ignominy, too. At the end, he lay on the floor, face down, a picture of misery. It was two Real Madrid players, Nacho Hernandez and Marco Asensio, who went to him first, to try to offer some solace. The gesture was kind; the effect, surely, minimal.
That is not the only what if that will linger with Liverpool: so, too, the question of what might have happened had Mohamed Salah, its star, not been forced off with an injury sustained in a tussle with Sergio Ramos — the latter very much doing most of the tussling — after 30 minutes. Before that, Liverpool was in the ascendancy; after, its confidence drained, Real grew in belief, its sheer confidence enough to carry it over the line, for the third time in three years, to victory, and to history.
Rory Smith and Andrew Das of The Times tracked the final. To relive it as it happened, read on:
The Final Whistle: Real Madrid 3, Liverpool 1
Gareth Bale’s two goals off the bench — one a wonder, the other a blunder — gave Real Madrid a 3-1 victory in the Champions League final on Saturday.
The victory was Madrid’s third in a row in the tournament, a feat unseen in the competition since Bayern Munich won three consecutive European Cups from 1974-76. It gave Madrid 13 titles over all, extending its Champions League record, and four in the past five years.
Liverpool, playing in the final for the first time since 2007, lost its star striker Mohamed Salah to a shoulder injury in the first half-hour, and while it gave a game effort — tying the score at 1-1 early in the second half — Real Madrid’s relentlessness and unmatched depth simply wore them down.
You really have to salute Bale, who has scored two wonderful goals in yet another Champions League final. But you also have to feel for Loris Karius, a 24-year-old German who wrested the starting job away from Simon Mignolet this season.
It’s tough to live down a gigantic mistake in a Champions League final. Imagine what it’ll be like to live with two of them.
He Just … Dropped It
Oh Dear: Another Karius Mistake
Bale tries a what-the-heck attempt from about 35 yards on the right, and the knuckling ball slips right through the hands of Karius. No other way to say it: that’s an all-time howler, a blunder that may have cost Liverpool the Champions League title.
It’s 3-1 Madrid in the 82nd minute, but you just get the sense that was the dagger that delivered Madrid’s third straight title.
Mané off the Post!
Mané is rolling over, and neither is Liverpool. His left-footed shot beats Navas, but pings the left post. He’s got his hands on his head, and so do many of Liverpool’s fans.
I Mean, C’mon
Bale did this on purpose. He launched himself into the air thinking, Yeah, this’ll work.
Quite an Entrance: Bale Scores, and Madrid Leads, 2-1
Marcelo fires in a cross from the left, and Bale acrobatically buries it to give Madrid back the lead. And what a finish it was: a reach-back, back-to-the-grass, kind-of-bicycle kick that you will see over and over tonight. If Karius was at fault for the first one, he could only watch on that one. He and Ronaldo are both shaking their heads. But only one of them is laughing at what he just saw.
What. A. Goal.
Gareth Bale Enters
Isco started over him, and now departs to make way for him in the 61st minute.
Tie Game: Mané Scores
This time it’s Madrid’s defenders who are fuming. Liverpool wins a corner — narrowly missing a goal when Firmino can’t get his head on a cross. But on the ensuing corner, Lovren rises above Ramos — the Madrid villain, in English eyes — and slams a header toward the goal. Mané gets to it before Navas, though, and stabs it in.
It’s 1-1, and the stadium has come back to life. Allez, Allez, Allez indeed.
Madrid Leads, 1-0, After Bizarre Goal
A horrible mistake by Karius, who gathers the ball at the top of the area and casually tries to roll it right. But instead he throws it right onto the toe of Benzema, who stabs it into the net. It’s 1-0 Madrid, and people are still trying to figure out what happened.
Isco Off the Bar
Confusion at the back for Liverpool two minutes into the second half leaves the ball free at the top of the area and Karius caught off his line. But Isco, who was first to the free ball, hits the bar with a right-footed shot at an open net. Big break for Liverpool.
Halftime: No Goals, but Momentum Lost
Via Rory in Kiev: No question about the defining image of the first half: Mohamed Salah leaving the field in tears, 30 minutes into his first Champions League final, clearly suffering from a shoulder injury sustained in a challenge with Sergio Ramos.
Salah’s departure immediately, fundamentally changed the dynamic of the game. Up to that point, Liverpool had been the more assertive team: not quite the more dangerous, and not as much of a threat as it has been at times this year, but perhaps more of a threat than Real Madrid had expected, or is accustomed to. Its midfield had forced a series of errors from Madrid’s; it had carved out a flurry of half-chances and glimpses of goal.
Almost from the moment Salah trudged down the tunnel, heartbroken, however, it was clear something was different: whether Liverpool’s confidence had been sapped by the departure of its record-breaking talisman, or whether Real suddenly felt liberated by his absence, or both, is hard to say. Regardless, the change was visible: Real Madrid poured forward, seeing a Karim Benzema goal ruled out for offside, and suddenly peppering Liverpool’s goal with shots.
Liverpool survived, but there is a considerable test awaiting Klopp: he must persuade his team that it can thrive without Salah — something it has struggled to do, on the rare occasions it has had to do it, all season — against a ruthless, relentless opponent. If he cannot, Real’s pressure will surely, eventually, tell.
In the 43rd minute, Ronaldo — who was offside — snaps a header that Karius parries, and Benzema — who was also offside — bangs in the rebound.
The assistant referee spots the second violation, and the goal won’t count. But that’s exactly the kind of situation that will bring VAR to bear in the World Cup in a few weeks: a clear and obvious error.
Both teams survive a few extra minutes before halftime without incident and head to the locker room to figure out just what the heck to do now.
Now Carvajal Is Off!
Now it’s Dani Carvajal who is leaving, replaced by Nacho after sustaining his own injury. Like Salah, he is among the best players in the world at his position. And like Salah, he departs in tears, his World Cup suddenly in doubt, too. (Carvajal is Spanish.)
The mood has turned grim. A game that promised everything is now causing heartburn in Madrid, in Liverpool, in Egypt and in Spain.
Salah Is Off!
Salah can’t continue: he’s down again, and now he’s coming off in tears. His teammates and even a couple Madrid players salute him, and Klopp tries to give him a hug as he crosses the touchline.
A half-hour in, and Adam Lallana, a fine player but no Salah, is on.
Scare for Liverpool
Mohamed Salah goes off briefly to receive treatment on his left shoulder after falling on it awkwardly as he was pulled down by defender Sergio Ramos. All of Liverpool — and all of Egypt — holds its breath, but he’s back on after a moment.
But now he’s down again and seems distraught. Uh oh. This is an enormous moment.
Two Turnovers, Two Chances
Carvajal springs Ronaldo down the right after an errant pass in midfield, but his rocket from just inside the edge of the area screams over the bar. Carvajal then returns the favor for Liverpool, sending a pass directly out of bounds for the game’s first corner. Van Dijk beats Navas to it, but the goalkeeper causes just enough trouble to distract and the header goes over. Twenty minutes in and we have not lacked intensity or chances. Just goals.
Liverpool Stepping on the Gas
Liverpool has been on the front foot early, pressing high and making Madrid work to get out of its end. The intensity led to a dangerous chance in the area in the first minute and an early free kick, but Salah and James Milner failed to turn it into a shot. It’s tough to faze this Madrid.
In the Final Moments
Final thoughts from Rory in Kiev: The Champions League trophy sits at the side of the field, delicately placed there by Andriy Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian striker, and a player who knew what it felt like to win this game — the biggest in club soccer — and to lose it, too.
It’s worth keeping an eye on whether anyone breaks the taboo as the teams file out and reaches out to brush the trophy with their fingers. It brings nothing but bad luck, they say, as Dimitri Payet found out in the Europa League final 10 days ago.
Other than superstition, it’s hard to pinpoint what, precisely, will decide this game. It has been presented in Spain, in particular, as the most ill-balanced in recent years, a far more straightforward affair for Real — aiming to become the first team since 1976 to win the European Cup three years in a row — than beating Atlético Madrid in 2016 or Juventus last year.
Liverpool would contest that, believing Klopp’s intense style — those devastating surges that swept aside Manchester City and Roma on the way here — can do just as much damage to Real. Most finals tend to look, in the buildup, like tense, tight affairs: one goal, one way or the other, could be decisive.
Perhaps that is the way this will go, too, but at the same time it is hardly inconceivable that one or other team will wreak havoc. Real’s star quality makes them favorites — Zinedine Zidane’s players know this stage — but if there is one club that believes itself as touched by destiny in Europe as Madrid, it is Liverpool. That trophy is central to the identity of both of these teams. Neither will give up on it without a fight.
The Stadium Is Filling, the Teams Have Arrived
From Rory in Kiev: The NSC Olympiskiy in Kiev is starting to fill with fans: a few thousand are in the north curve of the stadium, reserved for Liverpool; “Allez Allez Allez,” the soundtrack to the club’s season, is booming out. A vast cheer went up, a little after 8:20 p.m. local time, when Liverpool’s distinctive cherry red bus was shown arriving at the stadium. An even bigger one was reserved for the first glimpse of Mohamed Salah.
There are only a few hundred people, so far, in the bright white of Real Madrid in the south end: many more are choosing to linger outside, in the warm sunshine of downtown Kiev, or (more likely) struggling to make it through stringent, but brisk, security checks.
For all the doubts about the suitability of the city as a venue for club soccer’s biggest game, for all the logistical challenges fans have faced to get here and for all the inflated hotel prices they have had to pay to find a bed, Kiev — now Kyiv, as the locals waste no time in pointing out — has pulled out all the stops. Khreschatyk, the main shopping boulevard, has been closed off as a fan zone; traffic has been barred from much of the center all day. Whitney Houston has been blaring out of vast speakers on Maidan, the city’s Independence Square, all day, for reasons that do not remain entirely clear, as fans passed the long hours before evening, and the moment they have awaited all season.
The Lineups Are Out
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
Bench: Kiko Casilla, Nacho Fernández, Theo Hernández, Mateo Kovacic, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vázquez, Gareth Bale
The Spanish news media had been suggesting that Zidane would go with the BBR front line of Benzema, Gareth Bale and Ronaldo, but even Isco for Bale (who is available as a sub) sends an aggressive signal. It also suggests Zidane has supreme confidence that his world-class back line, protected by Casemiro, is capable of shutting down Salah and Co.
Liverpool: Loris Karius; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Andy Robertson; Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum; Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah
Bench: Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Dominic Solanke.
As expected from Klopp, whose front three takes a back seat to no one, even today. He will need big nights from Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum; if Liverpool gets overpowered in midfield, it could be a long night.
One more note: Real Madrid named the same 11 players as its starters in last year’s final. (It worked out pretty good for them that day.) None of the Liverpool players has ever appeared in a Champions League final.
“Experience is really important,” Klopp said Friday. “A second before the game Real will be more confident than we are, but it doesn’t matter because the game isn’t decided in that second. Real are really strong, but they’ve never played us.”