KIEW, Ukraine, May 26 – Zinedine Zidane became the first coach to win three straight Champions League titles after guiding Real Madrid to their record 13th UEFA Champions League after beating Liverpool 3-1.
Karim Benzema struck a bizarre opening goal after an error by goalkeeper Loris Karius on 51 minutes before Liverpool, who lost leading scorer Mohamed Salah to injury in the first half, replied through Sadio Mane.
Bale replaced Isco on the hour and connected with an outrageous acrobatic effort on 64 minutes to put Real back in front.
The Welshman sealed a record-extending 13th European Cup title for Real with seven minutes left as another dreadful mistake from Karius allowed his long-range shot to find the net.
“It has to be (my best goal), a Champions League final, there’s no bigger stage,” Bale said.
“Very disappointed not to start the game; I felt like I deserved it. The best I could do was to come on and make an impact, and I did.”
Real boss Zinedine Zidane became the first coach to win the Champions Leagues in three consecutives seasons, having only taken charge of the team in January 2016.
Sadio Mane had briefly restored parity, but Bale put Real in front again and then made it 3-1 late on with a long-range strike that the unfortunate Karius could only punch into the net.
Jurgen Klopp’s and Liverpool’s own evening was marred by the loss of a distraught Mohamed Salah to injury in the first half, the Egyptian coming off half an hour in having damaged his shoulder.
This was not to be Salah’s night, with Real allowing Zinedine Zidane to become the first coach ever to win the Champions League three years in a row.
Madrid are the first team to achieve that feat since Bayern Munich in 1976. This is their fourth title in five years, and their 13th overall.
Cristiano Ronaldo has now won five in his great career, but even he could not argue that this was Bale’s evening.
The Welshman had been tipped to feature in the Real starting line-up but in the end was left out for Isco — just as he had been in the final win over Juventus last year — before making an emphatic impact as a substitute.
– Salah’s tears –
For Liverpool, this game will be remembered for the disaster that befell goalkeeper Karius in the second half, and for Salah’s tears as he departed the pitch at the NSC Olympiyskyi.
The Egyptian hurt his left shoulder as he went down in a challenge with Sergio Ramos in the 25th minute. Five minutes later he made way for Adam Lallana.
His presence at the World Cup could now be in doubt, as could that of Dani Carvajal — the Real right-back came off with a hamstring injury before the interval.
Those injuries temporarily took the sting out of the game after an enthralling start, with Liverpool on top.
It had been uncomfortable for Real, but after Salah departed, they sensed their chance. They even had the ball in the net in the 43rd minute, only to be denied by a marginal offside call.
Ronaldo’s header from Isco’s cross was parried by Karius, and Benzema turned in the loose ball, but the Frenchman had come from a fraction ahead of the last defender and the flag came up.
If that was a let-off for Liverpool, they were their own worst enemies at the start of the second half.
– Careless Karius –
Isco struck the bar after Lallana diverted the ball into his path, before Benzema opened the scoring in the 51st minute.
It was a moment of unbelievable carelessness from Karius, who attempted to roll the ball out to the nearest red shirt only for Benzema to stick out a leg and send it trickling into the net.
Klopp’s side really could have let their heads drop, and yet they were soon back level, Mane turning the ball in after Dejan Lovren headed down James Milner’s corner.
But their renewed hope was crushed upon the introduction of Bale.
The Welshman had been on the field barely two minutes when he met Marcelo’s cross from the left with an improbable leap, back to goal, 15 yards out, to send an overhead kick on his left foot arcing over Karius and in.
Such a strike deserved to be the winner, although it was his long-range shot that beat the embarrassed Karius in the 83rd minute that made sure of the victory.
Mane hit the post for Liverpool in between Bale’s strikes, but they will have to wait a while yet before winning their sixth European Cup.