Gareth Bale came off the bench and scored a spectacular bicycle kick on the biggest stage as Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 to win their third successive Champions League title.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, who lost Mohamed Salah in the first half with a suspected dislocated shoulder and then saw a Loris Karius gaffe gift Karim Benzema the opener had swiftly rallied in Kiev through Sadio Mane.
But after agony and ignominy, Bale delivered a moment befitting of the showpiece, his 64th-minute overhead kick sealing a 13th European Cup for the Spanish giants and their fourth in five seasons.
Karius suffered further embarrassment when he let Bale’s late strike (83) from range slip through his gloves but though they competed gamely in adversity, crucial momentum was lost with Salah’s untimely exit and Klopp’s wait for a European trophy goes on.
There had been cancelled flights, stranded fans and ticket refunds but the Liverpool fans who made it saw their side make an uninhibited start amid the din, Rafael Varane made to work when Roberto Firmino threaded a fine ball through for Mane.
Mane and Salah were thwarted in quick succession during a scrambled passage of play before a loose pass sent Cristiano Ronaldo driving goalwards down the right flank, only for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to lash over from a tight angle.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, striking cleanly with the laces, drilled straight at Keylor Navas as the chances continued to fall Liverpool’s way but then came the blow, Salah’s arm tangled in a tussle with Sergio Ramos and the Egyptian forced off in tears.
Dani Carvajal saw his own night ended prematurely after being caught by Andrew Robertson – Nacho on in his place – but Real seized on the mood shift as their opponents mourned their leading goalscorer’s departure.
Karius beat away Ronaldo’s header, before Benzema was denied on the rebound by an offside flag, and the French striker then delivered a glorious diagonal ball that Nacho met but could only volley into the side-netting.
A tumble from Salah’s replacement, Adam Lallana, allowed Isco to swivel and crack a volley that hit the goalframe, but Real did take the lead in bizarre fashion six minutes after the restart.
Karius had collected a Toni Kroos ball meant for Benzema with minimum fuss but the ‘keeper too casually rolled it back into play, the wily forward diverting it back into the net. Klopp looked bemused as Jordan Henderson protested in vain but the German was lunging towards the crowd, pumping his fist just minutes later when Dejan Lovren rose to meet a James Milner corner and Mane gambled, prodding over the line.
Zinedine Zidane called for Bale with Liverpool buoyed and just two minutes passed before his decisive moment. Marcelo cut inside to curl in and Bale, impossibly athletic, shifted his body to find the top corner with his left boot.
1 – Gareth Bale is the first substitute to score a brace in an European Cup/Champions League final. Amazing. pic.twitter.com/nKgKRTvsha
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 26, 2018
It was a goal for the ages but Mane, Liverpool’s chief attacking threat, could have restored parity again in the 71st minute but hammered against the post. Instead, Real Madrid stretched their lead when Bale picked up a ball in space and took aim, Karius left wanting again when the task seemed simple.
3 – Gareth Bale is the third British player in the European Cup/Champions League history to score in different finals, the first since Phil Neal (1977 and 1984). Stellar. pic.twitter.com/uY4dWAwVwL
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 26, 2018
The man whose Bernabeu future has repeatedly been questioned exit might have had a hat-trick, Lovren stretching to deny him, but his moment to savour had already come and while Real Madrid could celebrate yet more success, Karius was left in tears.