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Gareth Bale wins the Champions League for Real Madrid

A brace off the bench for Bale and a nightmare night from Liverpool’s goalkeeper gave Real Madrid their third straight Champions League title.

Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Real Madrid have won three straight Champions League titles after beating Liverpool 3-1 in Kyiv. A Gareth Bale brace off the bench made for incredible drama, but Liverpool fans and Loris Karius alike will want to forget the goalkeeper’s awful pair of howlers in the second half.

The match got off to an absolutely blistering start, with Liverpool using their scintillating attacking speed to batter Real Madrid’s defense, while Madrid used their own lethal counter-attack to keep Liverpool honest. The opening stages of the match were very much a tactical chess match, but it was played at such an intense pace and with so many scoring chances that it was much more exciting than many such feeling-out periods in massive matches like this.

The first big turn in the match came in devastating fashion for Liverpool — Mo Salah has been at the core of everything Liverpool’s attack had done this season and in the early stretches of the game, and Sergio Ramos took him down hard with his arm tangled underneath him just before the half hour mark. That left Salah down clutching his shoulder in very obvious pain, and while he tried to carry on, it quickly became obvious that he had to leave the pitch. He was quickly replaced by Adam Lallana, who is a very good player in his own right, but just can’t give Liverpool the same kind of attacking thrust that Salah does, nor is he as valuable in their pressing defense.

Real Madrid suffered an injury of their own a few minutes later, when Dani Carvajal landed awkwardly after over-stretching for a ball at Liverpool’s end of the pitch, forcing Madrid’s right-back off the pitch with Nacho coming on to take his place. It was a painful injury for Madrid, though not quite as devastating as the loss of Salah for Liverpool — though it did force Madrid to change their attacking approach, as Nacho’s ability to get forward to support the attack isn’t anywhere close to Carvajal’s.

Real Madrid would get the ball in the back of the net just before halftime, with Loris Karius saving well on a header from Cristiano Ronaldo, only to allow Karim Benzema to tap in the rebound. Fortunately for Liverpool, Ronaldo was offside during the buildup and the goal was waved off, leaving the match scoreless at halftime with the pace slowing somewhat since the pair of injuries around the half hour mark.

The second half, though, started with absolutely relentless pressure from Real Madrid, with Isco banging a shot off the woodwork just a few short minutes into the half. Liverpool’s defense was starting to creak — but it was an disastrous error from goalkeeper Loris Karius that gave Real Madrid their lead, when he somehow didn’t check to see where Karim Benzema was before throwing the ball out, only for Benzema to pounce on it and poke it home after it had traveled all of two feet out of Karius’ hand.

Liverpool responded brilliantly, though, bringing pressure of their own and pushing hard at Madrid’s goal. That forced a corner kick just a few minutes after Real Madrid took their lead, and when Sergio Ramos couldn’t cleanly head it away, Sadio Mane was there at the near post to turn in the loose ball out of the air.

That put a new energy back into the Liverpool team — and their fans, whose singing volume came back after being quieted by Madrid’s goal — and the match opened back up in a big way after it had slowed so much after the first-half injuries.

Zinedine Zidane responded by bringing in Gareth Bale off the bench to give his team more attacking thrust, seemingly targeting a somewhat shaky Any Robertson on Liverpool’s left side — but no one in Liverpool’s defense was at fault when Bale scored moments later with a brilliant bicycle kick goal that was unsavable.

That set off a back-and-forth spell of the match that was agonizing for both sets of fans — Liverpool carved Madrid’s defense open several times, but couldn’t get their shots on target, while Real Madrid couldn’t quite get past the last man for Liverpool multiple times, with Loris Karius making multiple top-notch saves when they did gets shots off, trying to make up for his earlier gaffe.

His efforts to redeem himself came for naught, though, because Karius made another glaring mistake in the 83rd minute. Gareth Bale uncorked a strong shot from range, and Karius got in front of it — but his angle was completely wrong, and he parried it straight into the back of his own net to make an already-bad night for the German goalkeeper into an absolute nightmare.

Going down 3-1 would prove to be too much for Liverpool to overcome. The spark was there, but the time was not, and Real Madrid were able to coast to the end of the match with little to worry about.

The win gave Real Madrid their third straight Champions League title and their fourth in five years, an absolutely incredible accomplishment that once seemed almost impossible in the modern era of football. Zinedine Zidane has built an incredible team that’s weathered some major storms over the last few years, and this will long be remembered as one of the most dominant sides of any era of the game.

Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal (Nacho 36’), Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Casemiro, Toni Kroos; Isco (Gareth Bale 61’); Karim Benzema (Marco Asensio 89’), Cristiano Ronaldo

Goals: Benzema (50’), Bale (63’, 83’)

Liverpool: Loris Karius; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren, Virgil Van Djik, Andy Robertson; Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, James Milner (Emre Can 83’); Mohamed Salah (Adam Lallana 30’), Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane

Goals: Mane (55’)