Vinicius Junior scored the deciding goal as Real Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0 in the Champions League final at the Stade de France in Paris to win a record-extending 14th title.
The Brazilian forward tucked home a Fede Valverde cross from close range in the 59th minute to give Los Blancos the lead and Thibaut Courtois made sure that Jurgen Klopp’s side never found a way back, denying several Liverpool attempts on goal throughout the match.
It was a disappointing end to a fruitful season for Liverpool, where they ended up playing every match that they could. They won the two domestic Cups (League Cup and FA Cup) and finished an agonising second to Manchester City in the Premier League by a solitary point.
Liverpool had more than 20 attempts, and nine of them on goal, but couldn’t make them count as Real Madrid goal-keeper Courtois was extraordinary on the night.
Real Madrid on the other hand won La Liga on a canter and added yet another European crown to their cabinet. It was a season that saw Real Madrid see off stiff challenges in all the knock-out rounds of the Champions League. It started with a come from behind win over Paris St Germain in the round of 16, followed by a last gasp second-leg winner, on aggregate, against Chelsea in the quarter final. The script remained unchanged, and in fact became even more dramatic, as the Los Blancos scored two extremely late goals to see off Manchester City in the semi-final to reach the summit clash.
Liverpool started the match with their high pressing game, which almost caught out Real Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois as early as the third minute of the match, as the Belgian had to make a hurried clearance.
Madrid tried to match fire with fire with Benzema and Vinicius Jr pressing hard. Liverpool though were the first to settle into a rhythm as the trio of Jordan Henderson, Thiago and Fabinho got down to their passing game.
Liverpool kept probing and made several forays into the Madrid box in the first 15 minutes, but didn’t manage to threaten Courtois’ goal.
Madrid as expected were sitting deep and looking to break on the counter attack, depending on the rampaging pace of Vinicius and Benzema.
And it was the Reds who got the first sight of goal in the 16th minute as Alexander Arnold’s square ball from inside the Madrid box found its way past the defenders to reach Mohamed Salah, whose weak shot managed to test Courtois, who dived to his left to make an important save.
This was followed by two back-to-back shots on goal from Thiago and Salah, but both shots were saved easily by the Madrid custodian.
Liverpool almost took the lead in the 21st minute as Sadio Mane unleashed a vicious right footer, only for Courtois to deflect the ball onto the goalpost with his outstretched right arm. The Belgian then collected the ball which fell out of reach of all the other players.
Madrid almost had Vinicius running on goal in the 30th minute as Toni Kroos sent in a defence-splitting pass with the Brazilian on the overlap, only for Alexander-Arnold to put in a timely interception to put an end to the move.
Salah had the best chance of the half as Alexander-Arnold found him inside the Madrid box with a perfect cross from the right, but the Egyptian’s header was straight at Courtois.
Vinicius Jr had a chance in the 36th minute as he dribbled past a few Liverpool defenders inside the box, but Henderson was around to kick the ball out for a corner before the Brazilian could shoot.
But it was Real Madrid who had the ball in the back of the net first as Benzema shot in from close range after Liverpool made a hash of a defence. The long VAR check though ruled the goal out and it stayed 0-0 at half-time. That move though just gave a glimpse of how dangerous Madrid could be, if they had Benzema unleashed on goal.
Los Blancos started the second half well as they passed the ball better with the midfield taking charge of things. But soon Liverpool’s pressing game had them struggling and it was Alexander-Arnold again, who made Courtois work hard to keep a threatening cross out.
And it was Real Madrid who made Liverpool pay for their missed chances as Vinicius Jr scored in the 59th minute. An out of position Andy Robertson allowed Fede Valverde to run down the right flank and he put in a measured pass into the box, which Alexander-Arnold failed to cut off at the far post, and that allowed Vinicius to get an easy tap-in to give the Spanish giants the lead.
Courtois was called into action again in the 64th minute as Salah produced a bit of individual magic, coming in on the inside and unleashing a menacing left-footer, only for the Belgian keeper’s outstretched right hand to make the save.
The match opened up after the goal with Liverpool going up in numbers in search of the equaliser. That allowed for space at the back and Vinicius looked to break on the counter on a couple of occasions.
Alexander-Arnold remained at the heart of most of Liverpool’s moves but Real Madrid players showed great technical acumen to keep the tempo of the match low.
Casemiro had a great chance to increase Madrid’s lead as he was right in front of goal at the end of a looping free-kick, but his first touch let him down.
Liverpool came close again in the 80th minute as a deflection off Diogo Jota went on goal but Courtois was available to turn it around for a corner.
Mo Salah came excruciatingly close in the 82nd minute as he shot at goal from close range after being fed brilliantly on the right flank with a looping pass. But Courtois pulled off yet another brilliant save.
Madrid defended stoutly for the rest of the match and closed it out to pull off a remarkable win in a season when many believed them to be out of it on several occasions.
Courtois became the first goal keeper ever to make 9 saves in the final of a Champions League.