Stade de France, Paris
Real Madrid is simply made for nights like these.
No matter how perilous the situation seems, no matter how unlikely victory appears, the team in white always seems to find a way to win.
The night, though, was unfortunately marred by security issues outside of the stadium, which led to fans clambering over gates and others being targeted by tear gas in scenes that will be spoken about for days to come.
For much of the match it wasn’t pretty; white shirts, it seemed, were constantly strewn across the penalty area as they desperately attempted to repel wave after wave of Liverpool attacks.
Chances were few and far between for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but it only needed one. Vinicius Junior appeared completely unmarked at the far post on the hour mark to turn home Federico Valverde’s low cross and secure the 1-0 win and Real’s 14th European crown.
Real defender Nacho described what his team had done in the knockout stages of the Champions League as “magic” and many questioned whether those improbable escape acts were possible outside of the Bernabeu.
But doubt Real at your peril. This team always has another trick up its sleeve.
When the full time whistle went, Real’s bench erupted and emptied onto the pitch. Beside themselves with joy, some players sank to the floor and others ran to share the moment with their fans.
It was yet another night of trials and tribulations for Real in this season’s Champions League, but there is little anyone can do – even this remarkable Liverpool side – when Los Blancos seemingly have a date with destiny.
Ancelotti summed it up perhaps as well as anyone can hope to. “This club is special,” he said.
Real Madrid fans had filled their end of the stadium almost entirely more than an hour before kick-off and treated their players to a thunderous welcome as they emerged from the tunnel for their warmup.
It took a little while longer for Liverpool supporters to filter into the ground, but those that had taken their seats serenaded the men in red with a bellowing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ as the warm ups came to an end.
The atmosphere generated by both sets of fans was spine-tingling and there was an electricity in the air that is reserved only for these kinds of occasions.
However, kick-off was delayed by more than 35 minutes due to unsavoury scenes outside the stadium, with many fans unable to get in and with tear gas used by authorities.
Some people were seen climbing over the closed gates to make their way into the ground as a dangerous bottleneck formed around one particular entry point.
European football’s governing body, UEFA, released a statement saying “the turnstiles at the Liverpool end became blocked by thousands fans who had purchased fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles.”
It added: “As numbers outside the stadium continued to build up after kick off, the police dispersed them with tear gas and forced them away from the stadium.”
“UEFA is sympathetic to those affected by these events and will further review these matters urgently together with the French police and authorities, and with the French Football Federation.”
A spokesperson for the Paris Police Prefecture said: “People without tickets forced the barriers and tried to get inside the stadium to watch the match. These attempts created crowd movements.”
However, many fans with tickets say they were held back from entering the stadium in over crowded areas.
In a statement, Liverpool said it was “hugely disappointed” by the issues outside the stadium and called for a formal investigation.
“I couldn’t speak to my family yet, but I know the families had real struggles to get into the stadium,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after the game.
“I heard a few things that were not good, it was obviously pretty tricky out there but I don’t know more about it.”
The length of the delay meant the teams had to reemerge for a second warm up before the game had started.
With both sets of fans gearing up for the original 9 p.m. local kick-off time – and no in-stadium update coming until fifteen minutes later – there was a palpable tension in the air with many confused conversations taking place between supporters.
But the appearance of FIFA president Gianni Infantino on the big screens roused the fans from slumber, as he was met with resounding boos and jeers from the entire stadium.
When singer Camila Cabello finally began the pre-match entertainment almost half an hour after the match should have kicked off, supporters of both teams took it in turns to drown out her singing, which was barely audible over Real’s ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ and Liverpool’s Allez, Allez, Allez.’
The delay had clearly affected the players, as both teams struggled to find any sort of rhythm in the opening stages. Passes were going astray, clearances were being skewed and both sides struggled to find any inroads into the opposition’s area.
When the first chance finally arrived more than 15 minutes into the game it was thanks to fine individual work from Trent Alexander-Arnold, who weaved his way past two Real defenders before digging out a low cross into the box.
Mo Salah was there to meet it, but it arrived at his feet somewhat awkwardly and Thibaut Courtois was equal to it. Salah’s second chance arrived soon after, but this one was hit straight at the Real goalkeeper.
It was the first time either team had managed to exert any sustained pressure on the other, and the Liverpool fans were soon groaning once again as Alexander-Arnold blazed high over the bar when well placed inside the box.
After more than five minutes of continuous waves of red shirts battering the Real defense, Sadio Mane thought he had found the opener only for Courtois to improbably get a hand to his shot and palm it onto the post.
It’s a testament to just 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 rippling.
At this stage, almost 30 minutes in, the best Real was able to muster was an overhit cross from Vinicius that looked for a split second like it might trouble Alisson in the Liverpool goal.
There was now a clear pattern emerging; those in white were penned into their own half, rattled and unable to escape the Liverpool onslaught.
Real’s fans, to their credit, continued to chant and wave their flags and scarves in an attempt to breathe life into their floundering team. They had the best seats in the house to witness Liverpool’s near-perfect first half, but fortunately for them the only thing they hadn’t seen up close was a goal.
Then, out of nowhere, Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked as though it had taken the lead completely against the run of play. After the ball had ricocheted around the penalty area, Benzema pounced to slot the ball home under Alisson, only to see his goal immediately ruled out by the linesman’s flag.
What initially looked like an easy offside decision ended up taking what felt like an age to confirm, as VAR officials struggled to decide whether the initial ball had come off a Liverpool player.
Eventually, after a nerve-racking wait, it was those in red celebrating boisterously as the offside decision was confirmed. It was a suitably tense end to what had been an enthralling first half.
There was a familiarity with the way the second half began to unfold, as Liverpool maintained the pressure on a Real side that quickly looked to be sinking under the weight of the occasion.
It was a strange sight. After all, this is a team that has made it’s name in this competition, constantly rewriting the record books and pulling off the seemingly impossible.
Then the goal came. It was against the run of play, yes, with Liverpool looking like the only team that would score for the opening hour but, in truth, this goal still felt inevitable. It always does when Real Madrid is playing.
Valverde found himself in space down the right and drilled a teasing low pass across the face of the goal, with Vinicius on hand at the far post to tap the ball into an empty net.
Cue bedlam. The concrete stairs inside the Stade de France began to shudder as the celebrations from Real fans lasted almost five minutes. Numerous flares were let off as that end of the stadium began to glow red and smoke filled the chilly Parisian air.
Salah did his best to drag Liverpool level, cutting inside and bending a wonderful shot towards the far post, but Courtois was once again able to palm it away at full stretch.
Vinicius will take the plaudits for his winning goal, but when the dust settles, Courtois’ performance will be spoken about as one of the all-time greats from a goalkeeper in a Champions League final.
As the clock ticked down, he once again kept Salah at bay, this time flicking the ball behind for a corner as the Egyptian’s shot hurtled for the far corner.
“When the goalkeeper is man of the match, something is going wrong for the other team. In the last third we could have done better,” Klopp said after the match.
With every opportunity squandered, the inevitability of a Madrid win grew. Real fans felt it; so did Liverpool’s.
Though Klopp’s side continued to press until the end, celebrations had already started for the Madrid fans. The outpouring of joy when the full-time whistle went was largely tinged with relief – those fans know what an ordeal this night was.
Real Madrid should not have made it this far. Three times it was staring defeat in the face during the campaign and three times it somehow came out the other side.
But once it made it to Paris, perhaps there should have been no doubt this would be the final outcome.