KIEV, Ukraine — With his back to goal but eyes on the incoming cross, Gareth Bale connected with the ball while leaping in the air and sent a scissor-kick arcing into the top of the net.
Fusing athleticism and technique, it was a mesmerizing sight to behold from the Real Madrid forward.
Rarely has there been a finer goal in a European final and Bale followed it up with another to seal Madrid’s third successive Champions League title in a 3-1 victory over Liverpool on Saturday. Yet with blunders, injuries and intrigue unfolding throughout the night in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, the wonder-goal just enriched this engrossing climax to the European club season and set the tone for weeks of uncertainty.
A weeping Mohamed Salah was forced off in the first half with a shoulder injury that foiled Liverpool’s quest for a first continental success in 13 years and left the World Cup hopes of the “Egyptian King” in jeopardy.
Tears also streamed down Loris Karius’ face after the Liverpool goalkeeper’s mistakes gifted two goals in the biggest match of his career. It might also be his last for Liverpool, which was denied a sixth European title by the aristocrats of the continent.
When all they should have been thinking about is celebrating, both Bale and teammate Cristiano Ronaldo also cast doubts on their Madrid careers.
But while Zinedine Zidane was adamant about the need to keep hold of five-time world player of the year Ronaldo, the Madrid coach seemed far less concerned about the future of the player whose two goals just delivered the club’s record-extending 13th European title.
Bale only came on in the second half. The impact was explosive, scoring the bicycle kick in the 64th minute. Five years into his Madrid career, the 28-year-old Bale wants to be more than a super-sub.
“I need to be playing week in, week out and that hasn’t happened this season for one reason or another,” Bale said after lifting the European Cup for a fourth time with Madrid. “I need to sit down in the summer and discuss it with my agent.”
Will Bale get assurances over a place in the starting XI?
“It might be complicated,” Zidane said. “But everybody looks out for themselves and takes care of their own thing, and I understand that.”
Zidane doesn’t understand why Ronaldo raised fresh doubts over his commitment to the club.
“He must stay,” Zidane said. “He will stay with us.”
While Ronaldo became the first five-time winner in the post-1993 Champions League era, this was a comparatively muted performance in a final for a player who has contributed decisive goals in the three finals Madrid had contested in the previous four seasons.
In the tunnel before kickoff there was a furtive glance across to Salah, who has also scored 44 goals this season. But the showdown between the world player of the year and a contender for his throne never materialized.
Blame Sergio Ramos for that, although the foul that ended Salah’s final was not the Madrid captain at his most cynical. Salah landed heavily on his left shoulder in a twisting fall after 25 minutes. Ramos stepped away from the scene unpunished and Salah soon managed to step up after overcoming the initial pain.
Not for long. Salah’s final was over after 30 minutes.
Lying on his back, hands covering his face, Salah rose only to leave the field. An incredible debut season at Liverpool came to a crying end.
Four minutes later, the tears were flowing down the face of Dani Carvajal after the Madrid right back appeared to injure a hamstring while attempting a back-heel. Face-down on the field, Carvajal knew his final was over in the first half for the second successive season.
“Of course it was a little shock to the team,” Klopp said.
There were bigger shocks to come, from Liverpool’s goalkeeping blunders.
After collecting a shot six minutes into the second half, Karius rolled the ball out too casually, neglecting the presence of Benzema who stuck out his right foot and dispatched the ball into an empty net.
The immediate impact of Karius’ blunder was offset by Mane’s equalizer in the 55th. Dejan Lovren rose above Ramos and headed into the path of Mane, who turned the ball into the net.
But then Bale, so determined to prove Zidane wrong, entered this meeting of the Premier League’s fourth-place team and Spain’s third-place finisher.
“I was very disappointed not to start the game,” he said. “I felt like I deserved it. The best I can do is to come on and make an impact.”
That was achieved with the goal three minutes after replacing Isco and he netted again in the 83rd thanks to Karius’ second gaffe. The German allowed Bale’s shot to squirm through his hands into the net in the 83rd.
“I just feel sorry for my team,” Karius said. “I know I let them down today.”
It left Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp reeling from a sixth successive loss in a final, including a 2013 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich while Borussia Dortmund coach.
For Zidane, victory in Ukraine puts the former France great in an elite field alongside Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley as a three-time European Cup winner. But no one has achieved the feat faster, with each of his three seasons in charge ending by winning the game’s biggest club prize.
“I’m still only starting out as a coach,” the 45-year-old Zidane said. “You’ve got to seize the moment and that’s what I’m doing.”
Story: Rob Harris