Bale’s overhead volley, only two minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute, will go straight into the list of greatest all-time goals in a Champions League final and put Madrid on their way to emulating the great Ajax and Bayern Munich of the 1970s by winning this trophy three years in a row.
That, however, tells only part of the narrative from a night when the harsh reality for Liverpool is that Karius was a danger to his own team. His mistake for Karim Benzema to open the scoring was bad enough, but the error that led to Bale’s second goal was possibly even worse. Karius chose a bad night to be so vulnerable and Liverpool will always wonder what might have been if their goalkeeper had not turned the final into a personal ordeal.
Or, indeed, if Salah had not been forced off after only half an hour with a badly damaged left shoulder, an injury that undeniably turned the match in Madrid’s favour.
Salah looked inconsolable and Sergio Ramos had some nerve offering a sympathetic hug on the way off. Ramos may be a fine centre-half but he is also one of the more cynical players in the business, often doing his best work in disguise, and however much he protests his innocence it would be generous, to say the least, to believe this drama was entirely accidental on his part.
That is not to say he set out to leave Salah with an injury that is likely to have ramifications for Salah’s hopes of representing Egypt in the World Cup. But Ramos did, at the very least, take that chance by locking Salah’s right arm and turning him, judo-style, as they lost balance going for the same ball. The television replays hardened the suspicion that it was a calculated move to maximise the impact. Salah landed with a hell of a thud and it was immediately obvious he was in considerable pain. He tried to play on, telling Liverpool’s medical staff that he could continue, but when he sank to the floor a couple of minutes later it was obvious there was no way back. As Salah wept, the Liverpool end fell silent. Or, at least, the incredible noise that had been heard until that point came down several notches.
By half-time, Real Madrid had lost one of their own players to injury. Dani Carvajal could also be seen sobbing uncontrollably, his face buried into the turf as his night ended prematurely. There was no doubt, however, which injury threatened to have the more serious consequences. Salah’s absence was a grievous setback for Liverpool and, plainly, it was not easy for the players to be without the man who has scored 44 times this season and won just about every individual honour going.
Liverpool had started so fearlessly. They were quick to the ball, strong in the challenge and utterly determined to play the game at their pace.
Pressing from another planet, Klopp once called it, and it was rare to see Madrid look as flustered as they did in the opening half an hour. Yet the momentum swung Madrid’s way towards the end of the first half and, for the first time, Madrid started to get on top.
Ultimately, though, it had nothing to do with Salah that Karius made such an appalling mistake and the difficult truth for Liverpool is that they have been warned many times that the team is undermined by the lack of an elite No 1. As goalkeeping mistakes go, this was possibly the worst that has ever been seen on this stage. All Karius had to do when he collected the ball that Kroos had aimed for Benzema was to roll it out to where Trent Alexander-Arnold was waiting to his right. He got it horribly wrong, as if unaware that Benzema was so close, and the striker simply jutted out a boot to intercept the ball and watch it trickle, almost in slow motion, into the exposed goal.
Liverpool’s equaliser came within four minutes from a corner on the right. Milner swung the ball over and when Dejan Lovren won the header Mané, Liverpool’s most dangerous player, was alive in the six-yard area, turning the ball past Keylor Navas with an instinctive finish. Finally, it seemed as though Liverpool had cleared their heads and even when Bale produced his pièce de résistance Mané, in particular, kept threatening, one shot fizzing against the post.
Yet Bale was clearly emboldened by his first goal and when he let fly again from 40 yards the ball swerved in front of Karius and went straight through the goalkeeper’s hands. Madrid might have added more in the final exchanges and there was an incredible moment when Ronaldo was about to shoot only to be interrupted by a pitch invader. Nothing, however, will linger in the memory longer than Bale’s first goal –applauded by the Liverpool fans –and the mistakes of the beaten goalkeeper. SHARE THIS STORY USING ANY OF THE BUTTON BELOW ⬇ PLACE YOUR TEXT ADVERT BELOW ⬇⬇⬇