Real Madrid excel in the business of breaking hearts as white-knuckle Champions League ride ends in glory

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·4-min read
Real Madrid excel in the business of breaking hearts as white-knuckle Champions League ride ends in glory
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Real Madrid had to conquer Europe for a 14th time before they were taken seriously.

Only after they snuffed out Liverpool’s bid for immortality did the penny finally drop.

The search for greatness this season has been cast far and wide – yet always seemed to overlook the greatest of them all.

Would it be Jurgen Klopp’s quadruple-chasers or would Pep Guardiola at last end his ever-extending hunt for a third Champions League crown?

Could Thomas Tuchel become a back-to-back winner – or Lionel Messi deliver the trophy Paris Saint-Germain crave most of all?

In the meantime, Real systematically extinguished the hopes of each of those clubs, yet still felt like they had come from nowhere to lift club football’s biggest prize at the Stade de France on Saturday.

It is an insult to the Spanish giants as an institution that so little credence was given to their credentials to win a trophy that seems to have a homing signal guiding it back to the Bernabeu.

They have now won it as many times as all English clubs combined and more than any other nation.

And this rag tag band of misfits – as it often felt like they were regarded – now contains no fewer than nine players to have personally won the competition on five occasions.

Then there is Carlo Ancelotti – who looked like he had been put out to pasture at Everton last season, and this year became the first manager to win a title in each of Europe’s top five leagues and now stands as the only man to lead a team to four Champions Leagues.

Class is permanent – and the Italian has plenty of that.

So do his ageing stars, who so many have been so quick to dismiss.

Karim Benzema has outshone Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah as the finest striker in the world this year. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos remain at the very heart of this Real team.

The vintage trio have a combined age of 102.

They typify their manager as completely unshakeable, no matter the circumstances.

It is the most enduring quality of this team that they let the rest of us do the worrying for them. Meanwhile, they get on with the business of breaking hearts.

Caught up in a Manchester City-made tornado in the first leg of their semi-final – 2-0 down inside 11 minutes and in danger of being blown away before the half-hour mark – unfathomably they headed back to Madrid with the tie very much alive, trailing 4-3.

What followed in the return leg, scoring in the 90th and 91st minutes to take the tie to extra time, had almost become an expectation, given their spectacular comebacks in the previous rounds against Chelsea and PSG.

Yet still they continued to be written off – and on Saturday the smart money was again on Liverpool.

Klopp’s team did not have the defensive mistakes in them that ultimately cost City.

Their own storied relationship with this competition ensured they would not be overawed by the occasion or Real’s sense of destiny.

The quadruple may have fallen just short – but a treble of cups would place this current Kop class among the finest teams of all time.

The problem was, Real were not reading the script – and nor was anyone else.

In hindsight, their name was on trophy – perhaps as far back as defeat to FC Sherrif Tiraspol in the group stages when Real got a taste of their own medicine as Sebastian Thill scored an 89th-minute winner.

Real Madrid squad celebrate a 14th Champions League crown inside the Santiago Bernabeu (Getty Images)
Real Madrid squad celebrate a 14th Champions League crown inside the Santiago Bernabeu (Getty Images)

On Saturday there was no need for the drama of the previous rounds – even if their victory owed much to the brilliance of Thibaut Courtois, who voiced his own grievances about a personal lack of respect shown towards him.

From the moment Vinicius Junior struck in the 59th-minute it felt like the belief was drained from Liverpool.

Ancelotti’s counter-attacking game-plan had worked – and he had complete faith in his players to see out the high-risk strategy of letting Liverpool come on to them.

He is a serial winner, managing a team of serial winners.

Should there have ever been any doubt?

Watching them plot their way to the trophy has been a white-knuckle ride – one instant classic after another to eliminate the champions of France, champions of Europe and champions of England before facing Liverpool.

Yet, somehow, they arrived in Paris as underdogs.

They departed as kings of Europe. Again.

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