By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
The two global titans played a cagey first half when the marquee match finally got underway after a half-hour-plus delay, as thousands of fans weren’t initially able to enter the Stade de France before kickoff. (More on that below).
Here are three quick thoughts on the match.
Real Madrid’s Champions League magic continues
Liverpool came into the game as the consensus favorite, and they were probably the better team over 90 minutes in the City of Lights. But there has always been a certain magic about Real Madrid in this competition; their latest victory on Saturday was their fifth in the last nine seasons — and they won this one without former headliner Cristiano Ronaldo. The club now has won twice as many European Cups as Italy’s AC Milan, the continent’s next most successful club.
Throughout this year’s knockout stage, Ancelotti’s side has seemed like a team of destiny. They came from behind to beat Paris Saint-Germain, defending champ Chelsea and mighty Manchester City in two-leg series to reach the standalone final.
And despite being comically outshot (24-4 overall, 7-2 on goal) and out-possessed by the Reds, they still found a way to convert on their first on-target effort of the evening, this after an apparent tally by Karim Benzema was called back for offside just before halftime:
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois gave them the chance by keeping things even for the first hour with several top-shelf saves. And he made Vinícius’ strike stand up with a few more all-world stops before it was over, none better than this acrobatic one-handed effort to deny Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah with eight minutes left to play:
A bitter loss to swallow for Liverpool
Despite last weekend’s disappointment of finishing second (to Man City) by a single point in the Premier League title race, Jurgen Klopp and Co. had the chance to wrap up the 2021-22 campaign by hoisting the most coveted trophy in the sport after the World Cup.
If not for Courtois, they probably would’ve. Liverpool outplayed Real on Saturday from start to finish. Salah, Sadio Mane and the rest of the Reds threw everything at the rangy Belgian backstop, only to be denied each time, and Real took advantage of the one and only opportunity they needed. Sometimes that’s how it goes. But it’s another letdown for Liverpool, which also narrowly missed out on the English crown in 2019 and 2021, and also lost the 2018 Champions League final to Real.
The Reds were supposed to avenge that loss on Saturday, but Real Madrid had other ideas. Liverpool has been as good as any team anywhere since that defeat four years ago, but only have two major titles (the Champions League in 2019 and the Prem in 2020) to show for it, no disrespect to the FA Cup. Mane is already on the wrong side of 30. Salah, who has not committed to staying at Anfield beyond next season, turns 30 next month. As great as Klopp’s lot has been, it’s fair to wonder if their window is closing.
Another major UEFA final marred
Kickoff in Paris was delayed more than 30 minutes due, according to European soccer’s governing body, “to the late arrival of fans.”
But real-time reports on the ground contradicted UEFA’s statement; Liverpool fans who arrived at the stadium several hours before kickoff were not able to get in before the scheduled 9 p.m. local time kickoff because several gates had inexplicably been closed.
Videos online showed supporters of both teams scaling fences to gain entry — the second time in less than a year UEFA has seen streams of fans breach security to get into a major final. A similarly dangerous and embarrassing situation unfolded at Wembley Stadium in London before last July’s European Championship finale between England and Italy.
This Saturday’s final wasn’t supposed to be staged in Paris initially; it was moved from the original site of St. Petersburg in February after Russia invaded Ukraine. The late switch surely wasn’t ideal from a logistical standpoint. Still, three months should have been more than enough time to ensure that planning for the safety of traveling fans, in a city that’s no stranger to hosting high-profile events, was taken care of. Instead, at its most important event of the year, UEFA suffered another self-inflicted black eye.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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