Real Madrid, managed by legendary former player Zinedine Zidane, won the UEFA Champions League for a third straight year on this day in 2018.
Until 2017, no team had won back-to-back Champions League finals. Yes, the tournament had seen back-to-back winners when it was known as the European Cup but never in the Champions League era. Real Madrid broke that run in 2017. Then one year later in 2018, Los Blancos stunned everyone by claiming a Champions League hat-trick. Real, led by Zinedine Zidane, emerged 3-1 winners in what was a controversial final. But while the controversy was not without merit, there was also no denying the fact that the Spanish side were better on the night. The fallout from the night was, somehow, even more far-reaching.
Let us take a look back at this monumental event that happened exactly three years ago.
Liverpool, after years of failing to get back to the top of the mountain, were a team in the ascendancy under Jurgen Klopp. By contrast, Real Madrid had won the previous two Champions Leagues.
Their league form might have been scratchy but they were players for the big occasion. Indeed, that is what the final came down to in the end.
Liverpool’s path to the final was easier than that of Real. They topped a group featuring Sevilla, Spartak Moscow and Maribor. By contrast, Real did well to finish second in a group that had both Tottenham Hotspur (1st) and Borussia Dortmund (3rd).
The knockout round fixtures also favoured Liverpool to a degree. They faced Porto, Manchester City and AS Roma while Real faced PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich, respectively.
Yet it wasn’t plain sailing for the Reds. They needed an almighty comeback in the second leg semi-final against Roma. Having lost 5-2 at Rome, they responded by beating them 4-2 at Anfield to win the tie 7-6 on aggregate.
Real cruised against PSG, survived a loss in the quarterfinal second leg vs Juventus and toiled against Bayern in the semis.
The first half of the match saw no goals, although Real skipper Sergio Ramos embroiled himself in controversy – again. His cynical challenge on Mohamed Salah saw the Egyptian suffer from a dislocated shoulder.
Karim Benzema scored for Real but the goal was ruled out for him being offside. He was not to be denied early in the second half, although he owed an assist to ‘keeper Loris Karius.
Karius was looking to throw the ball out but Benzema managed to get in the way and deflect the ball into the net. Liverpool fought back and equalised through Sadio Mane four minutes later.
But the moment which changed the game came five minutes later. Zidane brought on Gareth Bale from the bench and the Welsh winger scored an acrobatic bicycle kick to restore Real’s lead.
Another Karius error gifted Real a two-goal lead which Liverpool never recovered from. Bale shot speculatively from distance and Karius fumbled the ball, allowing it into goal.
The match spelled the end of Karius’ Liverpool career. The goalkeeper was in tears after the match but found himself on the receiving end of death threats online afterwards. He was loaned out to Besiktas the following summer.
Ramos also found himself on the end of a media storm. His tackle on Salah angered the people of Egypt, who actually got a petition going to get him banned from the World Cup.
For Real Madrid, the story was different. Zidane shocked everyone by resigning from his post. His successor Julen Lopetegui, poached controversially from the Spain national team just before the World Cup, was gone mere months later.
Zidane would eventually come back to the post one year later. And while he hasn’t tasted Champions League success, he did lead Real to a La Liga win in 2019-20.
Cristiano Ronaldo would also leave the club, joining Juventus in the summer of 2018. Unlike Zidane, he has shown no signs of coming back.
For Liverpool, the defeat served to galvanise them. They sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona and used the money to sign goalkeeper Alisson Becker and centre-back Virgil van Dijk.
Both these players were key to their Champions League final win in 2019, as well as their Premier League win in 2020.