Real Madrid win Champions League final as Dortmund rue missed chances

It is the competition that Real Madrid like to think they own and the reasons why were mapped out in graphic detail at Wembley. Yet again. Borussia Dortmund brought the punch of the underdog and they played with a stirring liberation in the first half, creating chances and, well, missing them. It was impossible to think they would not regret it.

Madrid reset at half-time and when they started to press, everybody knew they had seen this movie, especially the ending. If Vinícius Júnior was a symbol of Madrid’s travails in the first half – booked for a lunge at the Dortmund goalkeeper, Gregor Kobel; guilty of a lack of conviction, at times – he relocated his game to dazzling effect thereafter.

n the first period, the Dortmund right-back, Julian Ryerson, had been up close and physical against him, enjoying success. After the interval, Vinícius was simply too much, flicking on the afterburners, making his moves, including a jaw-dropping stop-and-go nutmeg on Ryerson.

It was Dani Carvajal who scored the crucial first goal, getting in front of Niclas Füllkrug to flick home a Toni Kroos corner. And something seemed to break in Dortmund at that point. Few people had believed Edin Terzic’s team would escape the group of death with Paris Saint-Germain, Milan and Newcastle, let alone get past PSV Eindhoven, Atlético Madrid and PSG in the knockout rounds. The only faith came from within their ranks.

Now it waned. Madrid poured forward. Jude Bellingham, who was below his best, was denied by a last-ditch Nico Schlotterbeck challenge; Eduardo Camavinga worked Kobel from distance; Nacho did likewise with a header from a corner. Dortmund have been the eternal bridesmaids in recent years and they would be so again, their fate confirmed when Ian Maatsen played a loose pass to Bellingham and he released Vinícius, who was never going to miss.

Dortmund’s cast-offs, journeymen and unheralded names would summon one last push on 87 minutes, Füllkrug flashing home a header from Karim Adeyemi’s cross only to be pulled back for offside. There was no fairy tale for the team that finished fifth in the Bundesliga. Against Madrid – in this tournament – they do not happen.

Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal heads home the opening goal

It was European Cup No 15 for Madrid, La Decimoquinta, and their ninth from nine finals since the Champions League rebrand in 1992. Milan are next on the list with seven. Madrid have won six in the last 11 seasons alone. For Carlo Ancelotti, it was his fifth as a manager – a record; he has two more from his playing days – while it was number six as players for Carvajal, Nacho, Kroos and the substitute Luka Modric, equalling Paco Gento’s all-time mark

When Kroos was withdrawn for Modric in the 85th minute, he saluted the Madrid fans. He knew, not that there was any doubt by then. He had started the party and now retires from club football at the very pinnacle. Could there be a final act for him at Euro 2024 with Germany?

It was a typically star-studded occasion, Sir Alex Ferguson, Zinedine Zidane and Figo among those present; Jürgen Klopp, too. The former Dortmund manager was given a tremendous ovation by the club’s supporters when he was pictured on the big screen.

Dortmund dominated the first half, bringing the aggression in the duels, their No 8s, Marcel Sabitzer and Julian Brandt, stepping high. It was remarkable to see how they got runners in behind the Madrid defence. They enjoyed a concerted patch of pressure around the midway point when they created their openings and there were two huge ones.

The first was for Adeyemi, the winger sent through for a one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois, Madrid’s recently returned goalkeeper. In his four games in May – his only four of a season undermined by serious knee ligament problems – Courtois did not concede. Madrid needed him here. Spooked by Courtois, Adeyemi took a heavy touch, going too far wide. His shot was blocked by the covering Carvajal.

Brandt had enjoyed the first opening only to be crowded out and after Adeyemi had almost got on to a low cut-back, Dortmund had their second big moment. It was Maatsen who robbed Camavinga and, having raced back towards the Madrid goal, he released Füllkrug who guided first-time on the stretch for the far corner. The ball came back off the inside of the post. It was agonising.

Madrid offered next to nothing as an attacking force in the first 45 minutes and Dortmund had other flickers, Adeyemi extending Courtois from a tight angle; Sabitzer doing likewise from further out. Courtois had been the difference in Madrid’s previous Champions League final victory over Klopp’s Liverpool in 2022. “That fucker Courtois,” as Klopp called him a couple of weeks ago.

Borussia Dortmund’s Niclas Füllkrug shoots

It had certainly been a strange start to the showpiece, a worrying one, too, from a security point of view. Three men ran on to the pitch in the opening few minutes, the first stopping to take a selfie with Vinícius. Where were the stewards? Nowhere. The first two invaders left of their own accord; the third ran back on before a few luminous bibs finally showed up.

Madrid stirred after the second half restart. Ancelotti wanted Kroos to drop deep to make the play, which he did, and Camavinga to push up in central midfield. The connections which were not there before the interval started to fire.

Kroos forced Kobel to tip a curling free-kick behind; from the corner, Carvajal headed off target. Carvajal also had a side-on volley blocked by Maatsen. Füllkrug planted a header straight at Courtois but the tide had turned, Madrid on the front foot. When Vinícius shaped a cross towards the far post, Bellingham was inches from making the decisive contact but the goal was coming. As it always does for Madrid.

AstonVilla 1-2 Manchester Utd:  Scott McTominay earns Manchester United vital late victory at AstonVilla

On evenings such as these Erik ten Hag must feel he has the golden touch. It was not without a by now customary spot of bother but Manchester United racked up a fourth successive win for the first time this season, the substitute Scott McTominay’s powerful late header helping them to cut the gap to the top four to six points.

Manchester United stoop to trench-digging for pragmatic draw at Liverpool

Τhe new plan is no plan. Men standing, solemnly, in a place. Covering the spaces, and then the spaces in between the spaces. Block, buffer, deny everything. You didn’t get Harry Kane and you didn’t get Frenkie de Jong and you didn’t get Declan Rice, and so here you are: watching Jonny Evans punt long balls up the touchline in the hope – nay, the dream – that Antony can maybe get on the end of it and win a throw.

Harry Kane is not cursed, he is a winning footballer having a brilliant season

There was another Harry Kane moment at the weekend: those moments when the air feels thin and the pulse races just a little faster and the margins have sharpened to a fine point. Kane has spent most of the last decade of his career being the most watched, the most scrutinised and the most outnumbered player on the pitch. The percentages in this job are staggeringly low. Still he checks and feints and shuffles and drifts, looking and longing for that elusive yard of space.

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