As this year’s Champions League winds down, sports enthusiasts around the world have been dazzled with scintillating displays; one filled with sensational fixtures, continental clashes, and surprising comebacks. Right from the group stages through to the knockout stages, football fans around the world have always tuned in excitedly and with expectations for Tuesday and Wednesday nights to relish the intrinsic beauty of European football.
Saturday’s final showpiece in Paris will be the third time that these two football powerhouses will lock horns in the cauldron of Stade de France. In 1981, the Reds came out triumphant against their Spanish foe by a lone Alan Kennedy strike in the French capital. Another final at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kyiv in 2018 was a revenge mission accomplished by the Los Blancos when Karim Benzema scored the opener from a Loris Karius goalkeeping howler. Sadio Mane pulled the Reds back into the game through a solitary strike, but this wasn’t enough for the Reds to make even of the game. Two successive goals from Gareth Bale ensured the return of the Champions League trophy to the Spanish capital.
Prior to this moment, both teams showed their pedigree by eliminating several competition favourites. The more arduous task was undertaken by Real Madrid. The Los Blancos did the impossible through several comebacks in their fortress, the ‘Santiago Bernabeu’. The intimidating atmosphere at the ‘Santiago Bernabeu’ saw Paris Saint Germain, Chelsea and Manchester city’s capitulation, which led to their eventual elimination. For Liverpool, it was more of a fairy tale journey. A journey that saw them waltz through with panache, dispatching Inter Milan, Benfica, and Villarreal effortlessly on their way to the final.
It will be a showdown of grit and mettle. Both teams are coming into this final from a successful campaign. Liverpool have registered two trophies; the EFL and FA Cup, narrowingly missing out on a domestic treble. Real Madrid, on the other hand, may have already been crowned champions of Spain, but their European campaign thus far, defies both belief and description after a series of stellar comebacks. Their journey to this point could fill a novel, and the final chapter is yet to be written.
Liverpool’s latest matches in the Premier League showed a team with signs of fatigue. Despite this, they also showed a team determined to get the job done by coming out victorious even when conceding first in each of their final four matches. Pipped to the league title by Manchester City, the Reds now have the chance to add a champion League trophy to end a phenomenal campaign. Real Madrid, a perennial favourite, have chanced their arm a few times, but their resilience, grit and determination have ensured they live up to old club saying: el Madrid nunca se rinde (Madrid never gives up).
Both clubs will parade three of the best attackers in the world. Apart from the champions League trophy being at stake, the much coveted Ballon d’Or prize is also up for grabs. Karim Benzema, whose stunning displays have seen him clinch the Pichichi award with 27 goals, has, so far, been the catalyst for the Los Blancos’ resurgence. Mohamed Salah will also come into this final with a great motivation and assurance, one that saw him come up tops as highest goal scorer and best playmaker in the Premier League. Asides this two football maestros is Sadio Mane. The Senagalese talisman whose stellar contributions for Senagal saw them win the AFCON. He is the ‘clutch’ player for Liverpool’s title deciding finals.
Youngsters like Rodrygo and Diaz; dark horses that might just be the decider in this much-awaited final. Both lads so far have proven their mettle when called upon to make a difference. Rodrygo’s last minute brace in the tense semi-final clash against Manchester city gave Real Madrid the needed lifeline to turn the game around in their favour in regulation time. Also, Luis Diaz has shown Jürgen Klopp that he also can be a reliable player. His late introduction in games against Benfica and Villarreal was the needed energy Liverpool employed to defeat both teams.
The quality of players in both teams are not in doubt, but this final will be one of merit and savvy, quality and confidence, experience and grit. But then, football sometimes can be utterly unpredictable. Real Madrid have always ridden on the energy of their fans in Santiago Bernabeu. Do they still have a chance considering the fact that the final will be played on a neutral ground? Do Liverpool see this final as an opportunity to take their pound of flesh, coming from the backdrop of the loss suffered to this Madrid side in Kyiv? Irrespective of both sides’ motivating factor to make history by winning the Champions League trophy, football lovers all over the world will surely be entertained. Football again will make a bold statement of being a unifying factor in times like this where the world is gravely polarised. Let football speak again!
By Peter Adeyemo and Thomas, Jolly Akor.