Stade de France, Paris
Real Madrid are simply made for nights like these.
No matter how perilous the situation seems, no matter how unlikely victory seems, the team in white always seems to find a way to win.
There was no comeback this time, as there had been against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, but Real had to survive almost an entire game of dominance from Liverpool.
The night, however, was sadly marred by security issues outside the stadium, leading to fans breaking through the gates and others being targeted with tear gas in scenes that will be talked about for decades. days.
For much of the match, it wasn’t pretty; white shirts, it seemed, were constantly strewn across the penalty area as they desperately tried to fend off wave after wave of Liverpool attacks.
Chances were rare for Carlo Ancelotti’s team, but only one was needed. Vinicius Junior appeared completely unmarked at the far post on the hour mark to bring in Federico Valverde’s low cross and secure the 1-0 victory and Real’s 14th European crown.
Real defender Nacho called what his side did in the Champions League Round of 16 “magical” and many wondered if these unlikely acts of escape were possible outside the Bernabeu.
But doubt Real at your peril. This team always has another trick up its sleeve.
When the full-time whistle sounded, Real’s bench burst and emptied onto the pitch. Overjoyed, some players collapsed to the ground and others ran to share the moment with their fans.
It’s been yet another night of trials and tribulations for Real in the Champions League this season, but there’s not much anyone can do – even that remarkable Liverpool side – when Los Blancos apparently have a date with fate.
Real Madrid fans had almost completely filled their end of the stadium more than an hour before kick-off and gave their players a thunderous welcome as they emerged from the tunnel for their warm-up.
It took a little longer for Liverpool supporters to seep into the ground, but those who had taken their seats serenaded the men in red with a bellowing rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ at the end of the warm-ups.
The atmosphere generated by the two sets of fans was breathtaking and there was an electricity in the air reserved only for such occasions.
However, kick-off was delayed by more than 35 minutes due to unsavory scenes outside the stadium, with many fans unable to enter and with tear gas used by the authorities.
Some supporters were seen climbing over closed gates to force their way into the ground as dangerous bottlenecks formed around narrow entry points.
European football governing body UEFA issued a statement saying that “turnstiles on the Liverpool side were blocked by thousands of fans who had purchased fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles”.
He added: “As the numbers outside the stadium continued to pile up after kick-off, the police dispersed them with tear gas and forced them away from the stadium.”
“UEFA is sensitive to those affected by these events and will urgently review these matters with the French police and authorities, as well as with the French Football Federation.”
A spokesman for the Paris police headquarters said: “People without tickets broke through the barriers and tried to enter inside the stadium to watch the match. These attempts created crowd movements.
The length of the delay meant teams had to reappear for a second warm-up before the game started.
With both groups of fans preparing for the 9pm local kick-off time – and no in-stadium updates to come until fifteen minutes later – there was palpable tension in the air with many confused conversations between supporters.
But the appearance of FIFA President Gianni Infantino on the big screens roused fans from sleep, as he was greeted with resounding boos and jeers from across the stadium.
When singer Camila Cabello finally began the pre-match entertainment nearly half an hour after the match kicked off, fans of both teams took turns drowning out her chant, which was barely audible on “Ole, Ole, Ole” from Real. and Go, Go, Go from Liverpool.
The delay had clearly affected the players, as both teams struggled to find any sort of rhythm in the early stages. Passes went astray, clearances were skewed and both sides struggled to find inroads into the opposing zone.
When the first chance finally came more than 15 minutes into the game, it was thanks to the good individual work of Trent Alexander-Arnold, who forced his way past two Real defenders before digging a low cross into the surface.
Mo Salah was there to meet him, but he got to his feet a little awkwardly and Thibaut Courtois delivered. Salah’s second chance came soon after, but this one was hit directly at the Real goalkeeper.
It was the first time either side had managed to put sustained pressure on the other, and Liverpool fans were soon groaning once more as Alexander-Arnold blazed above the bar when well placed inside the box.
After more than five minutes of continuous waves of red shirts beating the Real defence, Sadio Mane thought he had found the opener only for Courtois to improbably get his hands on his shot and tackle it to the post.
It speaks to how remarkable the save was that most of the Liverpool fans at the other end of the stadium had already started celebrating in anticipation of the net waving.
At this point, almost 30 minutes later, the best Real could muster was a cross from Vinicius that looked for a split second as if it might bother Alisson in the Liverpool goal.
There was now a clear pattern emerging; those in white were herded into their own half, shaken and unable to escape Liverpool’s onslaught.
Real fans, to their credit, continued to chant and wave their flags and scarves in an attempt to bring their struggling side to life. They had the best seats in the house to watch Liverpool’s near-perfect first half, but luckily for them the one thing they didn’t see up close was a goal.
Then, out of nowhere, Carlo Ancelotti’s side appeared to have completely taken the lead against the run of play. After the ball ricocheted around the penalty area, Benzema surged to bring the ball under Alisson, only only to have his goal immediately canceled by the linesman’s flag.
What initially looked like an easy offside decision ended up taking what looked like an age to confirm, as VAR officials struggled to decide whether the initial ball went out of a Liverpool player.
Eventually, after a nerve-wracking wait, it was those in red who loudly celebrated the upheld offside decision. It was a suitably tense end to what had been a thrilling first half.
There was a familiarity with how the second half started to unfold, as Liverpool kept the pressure on a Real side who seemed to be quickly sinking under the weight of the occasion.
It was a strange sight. After all, this is a team that has made a name for itself in this competition, constantly rewriting the record books and achieving what seemed impossible.
Then the goal came. It was against the run of play, yes, with Liverpool looking like the only team to score for the opening hour but, in truth, that goal still seemed inevitable. This is always the case when Real Madrid play.
Valverde found himself in space down the right and drilled a teasing low pass across the face of the goal, with Vinicius within reach at the far post to tap the ball into an empty net.
Cue rowdiness. The concrete stairs inside the Stade de France began to shake as Real fans’ celebrations lasted nearly five minutes. Numerous flares were set off as this end of the stadium began to glow red and smoke filled the freezing Paris air.
Salah did his best to slide Liverpool level, cutting inside and folding a magnificent shot towards the far post, but Courtois again managed to push it away from the bottom.
Vinicius will receive plaudits for his winning goal, but once the dust settles Courtois’ performance will be considered one of the greatest of all time by a goalkeeper in a Champions League final.
As time ticked away, he again kept Salah at bay, this time sending the ball in behind for a corner as the Egyptian’s shot raced towards the far corner.
With every squandered opportunity, the inevitability of a Madrid victory grew. True fans felt it; Liverpool too.
Although Jurgen Klopp’s side kept pushing until the end, the celebrations had already begun for Madrid fans. The outpouring of joy when the full-time whistle blew was largely tinged with relief – these fans know what an ordeal that night was.
Real Madrid shouldn’t have come to this. Three times he saw defeat in the face during the campaign and three times he somehow came out on the other side.
But once he got to Paris, maybe there should have been no doubt that this would be the end result.
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