UCL Hattrick: Cristiano Ronaldo has equal number of Champions leagues to his name as do FC Barcelona :D
KIEV, Ukraine — In time, the details will fade. Real Madrid will not remember, not precisely, how it moved from mere greatness to genuine legend. The specifics of how it etched its name in history and took its place alongside the very best club teams soccer has produced will not matter.
All that will count is that — like the Ajax Amsterdam of Johan Cruyff, the Bayern Munich of Franz Beckenbauer and the primus inter pares, the Real Madrid of Alfredo Di Stéfano — this Real Madrid vintage has done what only those select few have ever managed, and won the European Cup for three years in a row.
After a victory on penalties against Atlético Madrid in 2016 and a 4-1 demolition of Juventus in 2017, Zinedine Zidane’s team beat Liverpool, 3-1, here on Saturday night. Three for three, four in five years, and 13 in total, almost twice as many as Bayern Munich, its closest challenger: That is all that will concern Real Madrid, a club that, more than any other, weighs its status only in silver and gold, and measures itself in victories, in trophies, in glory.
The manner of how they come about is always secondary. The story that Real Madrid tells itself of this game, of this run, will change as the years go by; its collective memory will pick out the parts to cherish and discard those that do not fit the burnished narrative.
It will accentuate the second of its three goals, a gravity-defying, breathtaking overhead kick from Gareth Bale, an immortal sort of goal, one that will be mentioned whenever an argument about the best strike seen in a final bubbles up. His coach, Zidane, had held the crown until now, with a volley in the 2002 Champions League final. Bale’s was not quite as clean, not quite as pure, but if anything it was more spectacular, more dreamlike, the sort of thing that does not happen before disbelieving eyes.
It will not pore over, in the years to come, the first and third goals, however, the ones that both decided and defined this final. Liverpool, by contrast, may never forget them. It does not feel an exaggeration to suggest that Loris Karius, the club’s German goalkeeper, will never fully recover from them.
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Defeated, Liverpool does not have the luxury, like Real Madrid, of picking and choosing its memories. Three will stay with the team, the fans and the club for some time; two will haunt Karius for longer still.
Both led to Real Madrid goals: After rolling the ball onto Karim Benzema’s foot and then watching, horror-struck, as it trickled over the line, he might have thought he had escaped that first one, once Sadio Mané equalized a few minutes later. There would be no reprieve from the second, though, with Karius wafting a rather hopeful long-range shot from Bale through, giving Real Madrid a 3-1 lead, draining what hope Liverpool had of an unlikely revival.
His Liverpool teammates, immersed in their own agony, did not seek him out immediately to offer solace; the first players to him, admirably, were Nacho Fernández and Marco Asensio, two Real Madrid substitutes. Only when Karius was on his feet again did the familiar arms embrace him, did the voices of his friends offer forlorn words of reassurance in his ear.
It was too soon for them to have any impact. Karius was in tears, his face puffy, his eyes red. He approached the Liverpool fans, a mass of red at the other end of the stadium from where his ignominy had descended, gingerly, nervously, palms outstretched, pleading for forgiveness.
That is what Liverpool will remember from this final: tears. Not those shed because of the defeat — Jürgen Klopp and his players should be able, in time, to appreciate the scale of their achievement in gracing this stage, to understand that it can be a staging post on a journey, not the end of a road — but those of Karius, in shame and sorrow, and those of Mohamed Salah, too, the player who illuminated the season, and then saw it end in darkness.
Real Madrid, emboldened by the absence of the one player who truly seemed to inspire fear, seized control. Kroos and Luka Modric, in midfield, were shadows and air; Liverpool could not have captured them with a net.
That will be lost in time, too, those first 30 minutes; nobody at Real Madrid will suggest its place in history turned on an injury sustained by an opposition player. This is the most exclusive game of all, after all, designed to identify the very best in Europe: If a team can be so altered by the absence of one individual, then that is a flaw that will be exposed in the rarefied air, just like a goalkeeper prone to nerves.
No, Real Madrid will — rightly — focus on what this team has achieved: not just won a trophy, or three, but defined an age, an era. This may well be its end: Both Bale and Ronaldo suggested while still on the field, in the middle of the celebrations, that they might seek pastures new this summer.
But that, in time, will not matter, either. Players come and go, even ones as elemental, as definitive, as Ronaldo. The details fade and, as unlikely as it seems, even the tears dry. What endures is the victory, the trophy, the glory, the place in history. That is what Real Madrid has. That is what Real Madrid has only ever wanted.
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