Friday 20 September 2019

Karius horror show and goal for the ages seal Real treble

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Real Madrid's Gareth Bale celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Miguel Delaney

As Liverpool ask what might have been, Gareth Bale and Real Madrid just continue to do things so rarely seen. Zinedine Zidane's side completed a feat for the ages in winning a third successive European Cup and fourth in five years, and that after a goal for the ages - if also two goalkeeping mistakes for the ages.

Substitute Bale's supreme overhead kick ensured that Madrid completed the most overwhelming period of dominance in the competition since their own pioneer predecessors in the 1950s, bringing it to 13 European Cups overall.

Yet for all the grandiosity of such achievements, the eye-opening numbers involved and the brilliance of such a goal, it's still difficult not to bring this otherwise odd game down to very different specific individual moments of misfortune, and two very different individuals.

A game that had seemed set up for an epic was derailed and temporarily deflated when Mohamed Salah had to go off injured after a highly dubious challenge by Sergio Ramos, as the most prestigious fixture in club football lost one of the game's great players. That wasn't necessarily the losing of the game but contributing a big part in it was one of the most calamitous individual performances this fixture has seen. It was impossible not to feel sorry for Loris Karius (pictured) after two errors that were almost inexplicable at such a level.

The first came in the 51st minute. After the goalkeeper had so easily collected a clipped ball over the top for Karim Benzema, he then so carelessly went to play it out without realising the French striker was nearby. Benzema deflected the ball back towards the net for the easiest goal he'll ever score.

Within four minutes, they were back in the game, as the defiant Mane stabbed home from a set-piece. It was both a remarkably quick and remarkable response.

Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Bale's wonder strike, just 122 seconds after coming on, put Real in command before Karius handed the cup to the reigning champions with a mistake to rival the first as he somehow allowed a straightforward Bale shot from distance to go through his hands. It's impossible to understand how it happened.

It was equally impossible not to wonder why Jurgen Klopp did not sort the obvious goalkeeping problem out earlier.

So much of this brilliant run is on him but so is what happened last night, even if the injury to Salah ultimately just stretched Liverpool too far.

It ultimately meant it wasn't to be his final, but it wasn't Cristiano Ronaldo's either. It was the man who had been dropped, and who is still expected to leave this summer. What a parting gift from Bale if that is the case. He offered the game's brilliant moment.

Debate will persist about how things would have gone had Salah stayed on, but just as much debate should rage over how Ramos took the star down. The length of time the Madrid captain held onto Salah's arm as he himself fell did look a little excessive, and unnecessary.

Klopp later said Salah's place at the World Cup is in doubt. The striker went to a local hospital for an an X-ray amid fears he had dislocated his shoulder.

Madrid benefited almost immediately from Salah's absence, but the quality of the game did not. The sloppiness that had been making them look so poor suddenly evaporated, having gone with Salah, replaced by a composure. That should be no surprise, since their biggest worry had gone, just as it should be no surprise Liverpool looked so aimless as substitute Adam Lallana struggled to find his position.

That was not the only challenge for Klopp's side. There was something deeper, that was really going to take all of their resolve.

How could they win this grandest and most demanding of matches without their elite match-winner, their best player? It was ironically a question that had been answered by some of their biggest rivals, as well as one of their direct opponents on the day, whose examples could well have offered Liverpool inspiration.

Ronaldo, who had given Salah such a conspicuous and internationally televised side-eye in the tunnel, was forced to go off early in the Euro 2016 final only for Portugal to defy the situation and all expectation and beat France to win their first ever international trophy. Manchester United had seen Roy Keane sent off in that historically famous FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 1999, only to still produce a victory for the ages.

It was just that a match that had looked like it was building up to a similar kind of epic had lost much of its intensity. Liverpool had lost much of their edge.

Before the Salah injury they had 56 touches in the attacking third compared to Madrid's 21. After it, Madrid had 65 to Liverpool's one. One. And all because of one moment.

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