Real Madrid high-wire act brings Champions League glory again

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti celebrates his sixth Champions League triumphGetty
  • 2 June 2024, 00:29 BST

Real Madrid’s Champions League adventures have long been like a high-wire act. How is it the Spanish giants don’t stumble and fall? Yet they don’t.

As boss Carlo Ancelotti hoisted the giant trophy for a fifth time, Real won it for the 15th, the bold challenge of Borussia Dortmund overcome at Wembley with late goals from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Jr.

There were plenty of celebrations amid the pyrotechnics over the stadium. A familiar drama had been brought to a familiar conclusion.

It is not quite a case of “if you’ve seen one of these victories you’ve seen them all”, but many of the opponents Real have left broken-hearted in these finals in recent years – Atletico Madrid and Liverpool chief among them – will sympathise with the pain Dortmund felt as they walked forlornly in front of their magnificent fans who illuminated Wembley with their colour and made it echo to their noise.

Real stumbled around in a dreadful first-half performance, spooked by Dortmund’s pace and intensity, living on their nerves as they somehow got to half-time level.

Karim Adeyemi will wonder whether he should have shot rather than try to go around Real keeper Thibaut Courtois when clean through, then whether he could have done better with another chance that was saved.

Niclas Fullkrug saw his shot bounce back from the inside of the post, the striker thwarted by Courtois after the break from a powerful header.

And all the time there was a growing sense of inevitability that Real would survive and prevail when they looked deep in trouble, as they did against Manchester City in the quarter-finals and Bayern Munich in the last four.

Real Madrid's Jude Bellingam lifts the Champions League trophy


Real are the Champions League’s ruthless winning machine. And in Ancelotti they have a coach with the Midas touch, in charge of players who know how to get the job done.

They showed it again when Dortmund blinked 16 minutes from time, Carvajal meeting Toni Kroos’ corner to glance a header beyond keeper Gregor Kobel and the hand of defender Mats Hummels, tempted to risk a red card to keep the effort out.

The game was up. Vinicius Jr swiftly added a second to ensure Real’s supporters were able to enjoy triumph in the competition in which they are the dominant force.

Those of us who have followed Real’s fortunes in the Champions League over the years are now old hands at this.

We can recall watching them steal victory from under the noses of arch-rivals Atletico Madrid with Sergio Ramos’ 93rd-minute equaliser at Lisbon’s Stadium of Light in 2014, going on to win 4-1 to give Ancelotti his first Champions League title at the club.

In Paris two years ago, one of the great faultless goalkeeping performances from Courtois left Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, in particular, driven to despair with Vinicius Jr emerging as the match-winner.

The temptation is to label Real lucky, but it happens on too many occasions for this to be a justified description. A Wembley straw poll among neutrals at half-time would have come down firmly on the side of a Real victory, even though they had been abysmal.

Real may have been mediocre for large parts but ended up writing another fresh chapter in their rich history. So Real. So Carlo Ancelotti.

Airborne Carlo Ancelotti is hoisted aloft by Real Madrid's triumphant players


Through it all stood the manager, the masterly facilitator of great players, working it out with the help of those in his charge, including a lengthy touchline conversation with Carvajal close to half-time.

If he was feeling stress at Real’s struggles, he did not show it – and why should he? He, more than anyone, knows what he has at his disposal and what they have delivered for him before. They did it again.

The Italian has been eclipsing his contemporaries in this competition for two decades. Even the two most trumpeted of the recent generation of coaches – Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp – have come nowhere near his record of success.

It was night when Real celebrated but also looked to a golden future – one likely to be spearheaded by Kylian Mbappe when he completes his expected move to the Bernabeu, a chilling prospect for those hoping to prevent a 16th win next season.

England’s Jude Bellingham may have had a quiet night – certainly against the standards he has set in a stellar first season at Real, where he has now added the Champions League to La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup, as well as the league’s Player of the Year award.

The 20-year-old struggled to make an impact at Wembley but still provided the pass for Vinicius Jr’s second goal, also missing a great chance himself with the score 1-0.

Bellingham will be the centrepiece for Real going forward, and England manager Gareth Southgate will hope a Champions League winners’ medal will provide a turbo-charge going into Euro 2024.

It was farewell to the masterly Kroos, who joined Carvajal, Nacho and late substitute Luka Modric in winning their sixth Champions League title, all equalling the tournament record of another Real icon, Paco Gento.

The latter three are still likely to be at the Bernabeu next season with power to add because Real Madrid – no matter how they do it – keep on rewriting history.

Who would bet against them, bolstered by Mbappe, coming back and lifting the Champions League again in 12 months’ time?

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