Gareth Bale came off the bench and produced a magnificent display for Real Madrid as the Spanish club defeated Liverpool 3-1 on Saturday to win the competition for the third consecutive year.
Bale scored two spectacular goals in the second half in addition to Karim Benzema’s weird goal for the defending champions, while Sadio Mane scored for Liverpool.
In a game filled with bizarre moments, Liverpool were without Mohammed Salah, their talisman, who picked up an injury early in the first half, followed by Real’s Dani Carvajal, who also got injured and left the pitch in tears.
The first half began on a pacy note as Liverpool dominated the early exchanges with their intricate passing and lightning counter-attack by the front three of Salah, Mane and Robert Firmino. Real, unsurprisingly, remained in their half and soaked up the pressure during the first quarter-hour of the game.
Real, however, had the first genuine chance of the game in the 15th minute after Cristiano Ronaldo, the tournament’s leading goal scorer, blazed his shot over the goal post, following a run and simple pass down the right wing by Carvajal.
Virgil van Dijk had the chance to give The Reds the lead in the 18th minute from a Salah corner but headed the ball out of play.
Liverpool continued their rampaging run in the 23rd minute as Andy Robertson delivered a cutback cross to Firmino, whose shot was blocked by Real’s Sergio Ramos but the rebound fell to youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose strike was comfortably saved by goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
The game’s atmosphere took a turn on its head after Salah, under a challenge by Ramos, got injured in the 26th minute. Liverpool’s star player continued playing but finally succumbed to what looked like a dislocated shoulder two minutes later. The Egyptian left the pitch in tears and his injury would also be a huge concern to his countrymen, with just 19 days to the 2018 World Cup.
Another player, this time Los Blancos’ Carvajal, also left the field in agony after twisting his legs following a back-heel pass in the 34th minute.
Real thought they had broken the deadlock in the 43rd minute after Karim Benzema had tapped in a rebound following Ronaldo’s header from an Isco cross which was saved by Loris Karius, but the Frenchman was adjudged to be offside by referee Milorad Mazic.
The Spanish team got in the ascendancy after Salah’s injury as they began to dominate possession and created two chances in the space of a minute before halftime.
Toni Kroos delivered a cross from the left wing but the resultant strike by substitute Nacho, who replaced Carvajal, only rumpled the side net. In quick succession, Benzema skipped his marker with, did a short run and struck the ball from about 20 yards but his effort went wide off the mark.
Real upped their tempo right at the start of the 2nd half by dominating possession and ensured that Liverpool were deeply rooted in their half.
The Los Blancos rampage began as early as the 48th minute after Adam Lallana, Salah’s replacement, miskicked the ball and it fell graciously to Isco but the Spaniard’s shot was struck against the crossbar.
But with The Whites clearly dominating, it did not take so long before the game’s first goal came in the 51st minute and in such a bemusing manner. Liverpool’s Karius, in the process of releasing the ball to his teammate after a failed Real attack, bizarrely threw the ball, which hit the shin of a roving Benzema and rolled into the back of the net.
The lead, however, did not last for long as Liverpool scored in the 55th minute from a set piece. James Milner delivered a corner kick, which was headed by Dejan Lovern, the resulting ball fell onto the path of Mane, who nicked it past Navas.
Isco had a chance to score in the 61st minute after he received Nacho’s cross, but the playmaker’s shot from inside Liverpool’s penalty area was saved by Karius. That proved to be the Spaniard's final contribution to the game as well as the commencement of the game’s other phase, following the introduction of Bale.
With just three minutes on the field, Bale scored what could be described as the best goal ever seen in a Champions League final and could dethrone teammate Ronaldo’s goal against Juventus as the best goal of the season. The left-footed Marcelo delivered a cross with his right foot into the Liverpool penalty area in the 64th minute and Bale seamlessly executed an overhead kick which left Karius helpless. Even Zinedine Zidane, his manager, was astounded to the extent that he rubbed his head and flipped his finger in amazement.
Liverpool pressed for an equaliser and were almost rewarded in the 70th minute after Mane, following a quick interchange of passes with Georginio Wijnaldum on the right wing, ran past Real defenders and played a fierce shot but the ball hit the upright.
Ronaldo had the chance in the 74th minute to increase his competition goal tally to 16 goals and ensure that the “BBC” squad was complete on the scoresheet, but was expertly blocked by Robertson.
Real surged on to get the insurance goal when Bale, in the 82nd minute, delivered a swinging reverse cross across the field to Benzema but his effort was blocked by Karius.
Still relishing his spectacular goal, Bale played a speculative shot from 25 yards in the 83rd minute towards the goal post of Karius. The Liverpool keeper had already positioned himself properly to save the ball, only to spill the ball into his net and give Real the third goal they earnestly wanted.
The goal, which turned out to be the last of the game, distinguished Bale’s remarkable performance from the rest of his teammates, while it also embarrassed the error-laden Karius and inadvertently made him the major culprit of a final loss that he would never easily forget.
In addition to winning the trophy for a record 13th time, Zidane also ensured that Real won the competition for the third consecutive time. He has also personally entered the record books with the likes of the late Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti to win the Champions League for the as a manager for the third time.
However, the losing streak continues for Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s manager, who has now lost six major cup finals, including two Champions League heartbreaks with Dortmund and his current club.