Eight months ago nobody thought Real Madrid would make the knockout stages of the Champions League.
They had just been soundly beaten by Moldovan minnows Sheriff Tiraspol in the group and the Spanish giants looked to be going nowhere fast. It was one of the greatest shocks of the history of the competition.
But last night, they were crowned champions of Europe for a record-extending 14th time after beating Liverpool 1-0 in the final in Paris. How did they manage this feat when on several occasions during the tournament this season they were not the better team and had found themselves on the verge of being knocked out? Big game management, is the answer to that and there is nobody better at it than their Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti, one of the most decorated managers in football.
He knows how to win the major competitions and even though Real were not at their best and came close to defeat many times, they still ended up lifting the coveted trophy.
They staged three epic comebacks when they looked down and out. After eventually topping the group they faced Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and trailed the French champions 2-0 on aggregate but would score three goals in just over 15 second-half minutes to make it to the quarter-finals. That was miracle number one.
Next, they faced European champions Chelsea and were 4-3 down on aggregate before Brazilian Rodrygo levelled with 10 minutes left in the second leg. And then star man Karim Benzema won it in the 96th-minute for miracle number two.
Miracle number three will go down in football folklore. They faced Manchester City in the semi-finals and were losing to Pep Guardiola’s team 5-3 after the first leg. The score remained the same as the second leg went into injury time and that’s when Rodrygo scored two times to level the score and take the game to extra time. Nobody could believe what they were seeing. From the brink of disaster, Real had rallied and were still alive. And then they were awarded a penalty which Benzema confidently dispatched to send Ancelotti’s side to the final. It was nothing but unbelievable.
And then, in Paris last night, they rode their luck as Liverpool came at them with full force. Jurgen Klopp’s men looked intent on winning the match within the first 15 minutes. But, they were repelled each time by the brilliant Thibaut Courtois in goal. They weathered the blistering start and won the final despite having just four attempts to Liverpool’s 24. Football is a cruel game.
Real lost four times in 12 Champions League matches on their way to the final while the Reds lost four in 63 matches in total this season. But it was Ancelotti’s side that finished the campaign as the kings of Europe and their incredible journey to the final will live long in the memory.
For Liverpool it was a sad end to their magnificent season. They had been on for a historic quadruple but missed out on the Premier League by one point to City and then the defeat last night leaving them with a domestic double. Most teams would be very pleased with securing the FA Cup and Carabao Cup but the Anfield club will be feeling bitterly disappointed. They could have achieved something that no other club has done but ultimately fell short.
They looked a little jaded from their exertions in recent weeks but they still did enough to win last night. Alas for them, they came across Courtois in defiant mood. Had it not been for his heroics the giant trophy would have been making its way back to Merseyside. Instead, it was Ancelotti and co who were smiling after their thrilling ride that entertained football fans the world over.