Anyone that has ever played, and won, in a sport will know that repeating that is tough. It takes skill, dedication, and a mental edge that few others have. It requires more than simply winning. It requires you to continue to want to win. To not be complacent. That is what makes this year’s Champions League victory so special for Real Madrid. It is their third in a row and fourth in the last five years, capping what has been a dominating run through Europe after going so long without winning the title.
To put this win into perspective, here are a couple of stats. No team before Madrid last year had won the title two years in a row since the tournament was rebranded the Champions League. That was done back in 1992, showing you just how long it had been. The great Barcelona team, a great AC Milan side, and many other classy teams. To go further, this is the first time any team had won the tournament three times running since Bayern Munich did it between 1973 and 1976. Only the Minneapolis Lakers, Boston Celtics (who won eight times in a row), the Chicago Bulls twice, and the Los Angeles Lakers can boast that in the NBA. Only the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s, a long time ago have done in in the MLB. No NFL team has ever done so.
How did Real Madrid do it? They did it by defeating a hungry Liverpool team that had made it to a surprising final. The Spanish team had far more experience on their side, but they have aged as well, so it was a contest from the beginning against the upstarts. Unfortunately, things took a poor turn for both teams as they lost key players to injury. Mohamed Salah, a player that scored 44 goals this season, injured his shoulder. From there, the night turned upside down for Liverpool. Cristiano Ronaldo would try to comfort him, and it’s an image that will live on, but it was a horrible sight nonetheless.
Errors played a major role. The first goal came in the second half when Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius threw the ball into a Madrid player- Karim Benzema. This interception allowed an easy goal, and it would force Liverpool to press hard for the equalizing goal. They’d get it soon through Sadio Mane, but the night was not theirs to have. Enter stage left: Gareth Bale. The Welsh superstar, frequently undervalued burst onto the pitch and scored an outrageous bicycle kick that gave Madrid the lead, and from there, it was over. The energy was gone. He’d add a second goal later, another mistake from Karius. It just goes to show that to win in Europe, you have to have luck, skill, and make no mistakes on the day. Madrid have done that three years running.