he ultimate kings of Europe reign supreme.
Real Madrid’s status as club football’s greatest was cemented on a night when they snuffed out Liverpool’s own bid to confirm Jurgen Klopp’s current class among the finest of all time. Vinicius Junior’s 59th-minute strike was enough to further embellish Real’s storied history, as well as signal a new generation.
So much of their remarkable run to a 14th European Cup was based on the ageless qualities of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. And while they were integral to this 1-0 win, it was 21-year-old Vinicius who provided the decisive moment – becoming the youngest player to score in the final since Lionel Messi.
It was the outstanding Fede Valverde – aged 23 – who provided the cross that split Liverpool’s defence to leave them so exposed. Eder Militao, 24, threw his limbs in the way of so many attacks it was hard to keep count.
And even if Thibaut Courtois, at 30, can hardly be considered an emerging talent, this was his first Champions League triumph with the club.
For all the talk of Liverpool’s claims for greatness in their pursuit of the quadruple, it is Real, also Spanish champions, who have quietly asserted themselves as the benchmark for the rest of Europe to aspire to.
They have done so with a blend of veterans and emerging icons, who possess the ring savvy of an ageing prize-fighter and the sheer fearlessness of youth. It is a heady cocktail that has defined one of the most enthralling campaigns in this competition’s history.
Those comeback wins against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City should have served as a notice of their intent, yet they still feel as though they came from nowhere to make this season their own. There was a sense of destiny that fuelled them – and caught out the each of the teams that stood in their way during the knockout stages.
Liverpool cannot say they were not warned – but despite dominating for long periods at the Stade de France, they fell for the same trick as all of those who went before them. PSG, Chelsea and City all thought they had put this Real team away – only to be suckered.
Liverpool’s great regret will be that they never, at any point, found themselves in a position of control. That was largely thanks to the brilliance of Courtois with a string of saves in each half. But Real always looked like a team that believed they could punish their opponents.
Repeatedly they looked for Vinicius to expose the space behind Trent Alexander-Arnold. On the other side it was Valverde bursting forward. Had their use of the ball been better, they may have scored sooner.
While Liverpool could point to the intervention of Courtois – producing wonder saves to deny Mo Salah, twice, and Sadio Mane – Real’s could blame themselves for failing to exploit a host of breaks that could put even more shine of this victory, particularly in the latter stages.
But it did not matter. Vinicius’ strike was the difference and came from moment of pure quality from the Spanish giants.
Typically, Modric was the architect – picking up the ball deep in his own half and under pressure from red shirts. He kept his never in a tight space before springing the attack. The ball was eventually worked to Valverde, who charged down the right.
Liverpool were on the back foot and desperately trying to regain their shape. Karim Benzema demanded attention as he made a move to the near post – but Valverde aimed his cross to the far post. Racing in was Vincius, unmarked to convert from close range.
There was still time for Liverpool to come again.
Substitute Diogo Jota’s snap shot forced Courtois into action again – but it was the Belgium international’s reflex stop to push away Salah’s late effort that felt like the end of Liverpool’s fight.
Courtois was the pick of Real’s players – but he was in good company in terms of outstanding performers. Dani Carvajal produced a masterclass in fullback play to shackle Luis Diaz. Casemiro was irrepressible – destroying so many Liverpool attacks.
Benzema was so intelligent and unselfish in his link-up play. It was a consummate team performance by a team that has been largely overlooked in a season where greatness beckoned for their opponents.
Liverpool, meanwhile, made it a third final this season without scoring a goal. They went in search of a quadruple and ended up with a double of domestic cups. It was still a fine campaign – and one that has been joy to behold. But, ultimately, one that came up just short.