REAL MADRID CF: SEASON IN REVIEW
'We want to carry on making history'
Madrid’s passage to Kyiv was not plain sailing, but a singular sense of purpose and some unforgettable moments of skill have put the trophy in touching distance once again
There is a saying in Spain that has rarely felt more pertinent than it has done this season: “El Madrid es el Madrid.” Madrid are Madrid. And Madrid being Madrid, they always find a way. The holders have wobbled at times, surrendering a 3-0 first-leg advantage in their quarter-final with Juventus before going through in dramatic fashion. They have hung on grittily at others, resisting severe pressure from FC Bayern München in their semi-final decider. But here they are, back in the final for a third consecutive season, their consummate European pedigree paying off in the end.
A record 12 European titles tells its own story, and Zinédine Zidane’s side made their experience count as the contributions of each and every player ensured they passed a series of demanding tests on the road to Kyiv. Once again, Cristiano Ronaldo led the way, yet it felt fitting that their semi-final victory owed much to two unsung heroes.
Karim Benzema made the difference at one end. The player whose work rate, technique and selflessness allow Ronaldo to flourish was their goalscoring hero in the second leg, registering twice at the Santiago Bernabéu to secure a 4-3 aggregate victory. At the other, Keylor Navas put in one of the competition’s great goalkeeping displays to repel the Bayern barrage.
Marcelo was another key performer, burnishing his reputation as one of football’s most devastating left-backs. “It’s a good thing he plays for us,” joked Zidane, after the Brazilian international had also found the net against Bayern – in the 2-1 first-leg victory – having capped the 3-0 win away to Juve in the previous round. He was equally sensational down his flank as Paris Saint-Germain were dispatched in the last 16.
Karim Benzema is about to be swamped by delighted team-mates after his goal puts Madrid 2-1 up against Bayern in the semi-final second leg
All were memorable moments, in a campaign full of them. Madrid have not had it easy either, kicking off in a tough group alongside Tottenham Hotspur FC and Borussia Dortmund, and finishing runners-up to the Premier League side after losing 3-1 at Wembley. But they rallied in the knockout phase – as they always do – toppling the teams who would go on to be crowned champions in France, Italy and Germany to seal their final spot.
“Madrid never give up,” said Zidane. “We believe in ourselves and we achieve things by that, and by fighting.” No doubt, but Madrid’s class has also shone through in each round, from the controlled way they snuffed out Paris’s ambitions to Ronaldo’s stunning overhead kick against Juventus and Marco Asensio’s lightning-fast breakaway goal in Munich.
“We’re making what seemed impossible look easy,” explained captain Sergio Ramos earlier this season. “Nobody had ever won two Champions League titles in a row and Madrid did it. This group wants to carry on making history.”
They have been helped, of course, by their history-maker in chief. The all-time leading scorer in the European Cup, Ronaldo sits top of the goal charts yet again, having found the net
in a record 11 consecutive UEFA Champions League games on his way to racking up 15 for the season. Even the Juventus fans stood to applaud his acrobatic masterpiece in Turin, while his crucial added-time penalty in the return game showcased his composure and determination.
Much of the credit for Madrid’s success must also go to Zidane, now unbeaten in 11 UEFA Champions League knockout ties. The Frenchman has managed to strike the perfect balance between attack and defence, while displaying a Midas touch when it comes to substitutions. Typically self-deprecating, Zidane has refused to get carried away by the prospect of claiming his third European Cup as coach – a feat that would put him in an elite club with Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley.
“We’ve won nothing yet,” he said. “We’re in the final, that’s all.” Perhaps, but his canny, resilient and thrilling side have triumphed over adversity at every step of the way. As the saying goes, “El Madrid es el Madrid.”
Real Madrid 3-0 APOEL
Dortmund 1-3 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham
Tottenham 3-1 Real Madrid
APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 3-2 Dortmund
ROUND OF 16
Real Madrid 3-1 Paris
Paris 1-2 Real Madrid
Real Madrid win 5-2 on aggregate
Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 1-3 Juventus
Real Madrid win 4-3 on aggregate
Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 2-2 Bayern
Real Madrid win 4-3 on aggregate
Each Champions League title is a different memory, but I don’t keep thinking about them. It would be too much of a burden because they’ve already been and gone. We played, we won and it’s over. We’re always thinking about the future. Just playing in the Champions League is significant in itself. It’s extremely satisfying for any player, but actually to win it – that’s an extra highlight. You have to prove yourself every year in football … 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, that’s all in the past. What we want is to win in 2018.
Anything can happen in a final. We’ve been excellent in training, we’re preparing well for the final and we won’t change anything from what we normally do. The most important thing is to give everything in the match and do everything we can, so that we can step off the pitch safe in the knowledge that we gave it our all and did everything the coach asked of us.
Every match is different, and it’s not just Salah at Liverpool. We know they’ve got Firmino and Mané too. They have a few players who can change a game. Even more so in a final, you can’t just focus on one particular player. We cannot stop to think about any one player because anything can happen in a final.
'You have to prove yourself every year'
When I was a kid, I always played football on the beach, on the streets or in a field near my home. My entire family played constantly as well, as did my friends and my grandfather’s and father’s friends. I would leave the house to go to school and see someone playing football. I would leave the house to go to training and there was someone playing football. The person who taught me, helped me and inspired me in life was my grandfather.