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A CHAMPIONS League final which resulted in several moments of football history, not least for their three-time winning coach, ended on Saturday with Zinedine Zidane fending off questions about the future of his two most famous players.
Gareth Bale’s match-winning heroics were overshadowed by post-match comments from the Welshman and the Champions League’s first-ever five-time champion, Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the pitch, Real Madrid were on the ropes for much of the first half as Liverpool stormed at them from the start until the loss of their Footballer of the Year Mo Salah.
In a strong challenge with Sergio Ramos, the Egyptian injured his shoulder which left him clinging to his hopes of playing in the World Cup. “Of course it was a big moment in the game,” admitted Klopp afterwards. “The shock of the boys was obvious and we dropped a little bit.”
Thereafter, Madrid grew in strength. Karim Benzema had a goal disallowed for offside shortly before half-time and Isco shot against the bar moments later. Yet for all their growing dominance, it took a moment of farce to open the scoring as having collected a straightforward through pass ahead of Benzema, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius in his haste threw the ball against the French forward and saw the ball trickle into his own net.
Liverpool’s reply was instant as Sadio Mane poked home from close range after Dejan Lovren headed down a right-wing corner.
But the game was put out of their reach by Bale, who replaced Isco shortly after Liverpool’s equaliser.
His first goal was one for the ages, a pirouetting bicycle kick which stunned a raucous stadium into momentary silence. Bale said afterwards: “On the biggest occasion, on the biggest stage in world football, to score a goal like that is obviously a dream come true.
“I’ve actually never scored a bicycle kick before, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had many attempts, gone very close, but it was nice to see one go in on such an important occasion.”
His second was another gift from Karius who spilled his seemingly innocuous shot into the net. “I tried to put a kind of wobble on the ball and make it difficult for the keeper. Obviously it was unfortunate for him that he made the mistake but every goal counts.”
On starting a second successive Champions League final from the bench, Bale admitted: “I felt like I should start. I felt I’d been playing well to start. Obviously I was very disappointed to hear that I wasn’t. I know, as a professional, the team isn’t just about 11 players, it’s about the squad. When you come on, you have to try and make an impact. That’s what I did. You kind of dream of these things happening.”
On his own future, he added: ”I need to be playing every week, I feel I should be playing every week. Maybe I’ll be staying here, maybe not.”
“The goals were quite strange,” admitted a dejected-looking Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after the game. Asked what he said to his goalkeeper, he replied: “The mistakes were obvious … he has to deal with it, we have to deal with it. Tonight, we don’t have to talk about that, it was not his night obviously.”
On his own mood, Klopp reflected on a second Champions League final defeat in six seasons. “It’s a football game, we tried everything to win it, I wouldn’t change anything in my preparations. I tried the best I could but it wasn’t good enough.”
Zidane joined the pantheon of managerial greats by matching Bob Paisley and his former boss Carlo Ancelotti in winning three Champions League titles, the first-ever to achieve that feat with one club, but spent most of his press conference dealing with inquiries about Cristiano Ronaldo’s cryptic post-match comments, in which the five-time winner said he would soon make an announcement about his future at the club.
“He must stay in Real Madrid, he will stay with us in Real Madrid. Of course, as usual, we will have to see what happens. There are no words to describe what Cristiano Ronaldo has achieved and what he’s done in Real Madrid, so in my mind he must stay with us in Real Madrid … but we will wait and see.”
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