Gareth Bale stole the show and the opportunity to make a bold statement to his doubters with a stunning overhead kick to net one of the greatest ever Champions League goals. A second goal closely followed to help Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1, winning the competition for the third consecutive time.
Super-sub Bale Steals The Show in Kiev
The ‘Welsh Galactico’ didn’t start the final but fooled already-beleaguered Loris Karius with an overhead kick. Karius’ schoolboy blunder gifted Madrid with their first goal. His poor throw-out and failure to spot a lurking Karim Benzema waiting to intercept left him embarrassed.
Sorrow for Salah
The Reds were earlier hit by disaster as Mohamed Salah’s final ended in tears. The in-form forward clashed with Sergio Ramos, sustaining a suspected dislocated shoulder, ending his final and possibly his World Cup.
Without Salah things looked tough for Klopp’s side. However, just four minutes after going behind to Benzema’s opener, they were level. A well-taken corner caught the holders out as Dejan Lovren headed into the path of Sadio Mane to hammer home an equaliser.
The relief was evident as a more animated than usual Jurgen Klopp leapt and punched the air. The already audible Liverpool following filled the stadium with noise. This appeared to lift the Reds who were instantly charged and beginning to open up.
Having been largely held back before injuries staggered the first half, Madrid settled. Their regular experience of such finals started to tell, Liverpool again looked nervous. The Champions pounced, soon finding the net through Benzema, only for the linesman’s flag to cancel the celebrations.
Having been in much-improved form ahead of the final, Gareth Bale was disappointed to have been benched. Despite injury, his experience is undeniable. Amid rumours of a summer exit, it looked like his Spanish days could be over.
Time for Elevenses
However, shortly after replacing a lukewarm Isco, he put his indelible mark on the game, making a bold statement, and a little bit of footballing history.
After Marcelo tossed the ball in from the left, the Welshman hit a spectacular bicycle-kick into the top corner, more than outdoing Ronaldo’s stunner in the quarter-final. The media are already arguing if it was even better than the example set by Zinedine Zidane.
The shock left Liverpool struggling to find a way through, with Madrid quickly closing ranks. Bale then hit a spectacular effort from range, with Karius again agonisingly letting it slip off his hands. If there was ever a goalkeeper’s nightmare match, it would have to be this.
Liverpool’s Champions League dream was over, Karius and various teammates left the field heartbroken and in tears. The delighted travelling ‘Los Blancos’ fans watched the Spanish giants lift the trophy once more.
Time to Bale Out of the Bernabeu?
The hero of the night spoke to BT Sport immediately following the whistle, Bale now parading his fourth Champions League medal, poignantly said;
“I was obviously very disappointed not to start the game, so the best I could do was come on and I needed to make an impact – and that’s what I did. It has to be the best goal I’ve ever scored. Just happy to get the win.”
It was indeed his actions that spoke louder than words though. Those brief minutes served as a reminder to any that may have forgotten how remarkable he is. Not least his present employers, and potential new ones. Bale then further fuelled speculation when asked of a possible return to the Premier League.
“We’ll see, it’s the summer now it’s time to sit down with my agent and take it from there.”
Whilst the hero ponders his future, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool now face the task of dusting off and starting again next season. Some of their players will be consoled by the imminent World Cup. For their super star Mo Salah, though, it may be a whole summer of undeserved disappointment, just at a time that saw him enjoying the best form of his career.
Jurgen Klopp was as pragmatic as ever, refusing to blame his keeper solely. He said; “We all feel really, really bad, and the way home will not be the best trip we ever had in our life but we have to accept it now. We wanted everything and got nothing, or minus something with the injury of Mo. “
Whilst Gareth Bale and Madrid will be celebrating, Liverpool, Mo Salah and indeed Loris Karius will be trying to forget an bitter and agonising night.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 26, 2018