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Monday May 28 2018
Madrid masters of Europe

Cries of 'lucky' Real Madrid could be heard after they lifted yet another Champions League, but Daryl Hammond thinks its time to treat Zinedine Zidane's Blancos as true titans.

They say if you can’t be good, be lucky. And as Loris Karius palmed Gareth Bale’s speculative shot into his own net to secure a third consecutive Champions League, one could be forgiven for thinking Real Madrid’s triumph was just that. Luck.

True, for much of the season Madrid have been far from their dominant best, grinding out wins against tough opposition without playing particularly well in Europe.

But their combination of quality, experience, game management and tactical nous against Liverpool saw them to a 13th European Cup success.

The Final belonged to Bale, who emerged from the bench to score twice, his first a bicycle kick debated as one of the greatest Champions League goals of all time.

Though he didn’t score in the Final or semis, Cristiano Ronaldo dragged them this far with 15 goals, while the much-maligned Karim Benzema stepped up with three goals in as many games.

Marcelo has impressed throughout the competition, while Sergio Ramos employed all the tricks of the trade. It was a performance that had all the hallmarks of a team who had been here before. Like muscle memory, they knew what had to be done.

Not that they haven’t had their share of good fortune along the way. Liverpool losing 44-goal Mohamed Salah to injury after 30 minutes was a huge boost. Bayern Munich goalkeeper Sven Ulreich hardly covered himself in glory either, when he missed the ball, allowing Benzema to score in the last round. And a 90th-minute penalty spared their blushes against Juventus.

And with that share of fortune comes the opportunity to diminish the achievements of Los Blancos and their Coach Zinedine Zidane. Chastised for a perceived lack of tactical understanding, the Frenchman has expertly managed his side through every round and every Final.

Every game in the competition has seen a slight variation in personnel and system and with that, scrutiny about the way Zizou has set his Madrid team up.

But the team who finish the game can often be just as important as the team who start it. In Cardiff, Marco Asensio came off the bench to round off a comprehensive victory over Atletico. This time it was Bale’s time to shine as a sub.

Sometimes Madrid have ridden their luck, but they were always in the game, ready to take any chances that popped up. Knowing Liverpool could not sustain their energetic style, his side held firm until ready to strike. And mentally, his side are a cut above.

In the biggest game of his career, Karius made two horrendous mistakes. Robert Lewandowski and co. missed a host of chances for Bayern, while Juve completely crumbled in the first leg of their quarter-final.

Is it any surprise that Madrid, a club under constant pressure, handles it the best? It’s especially been the case under Zidane, who knows that pressure and expectation like few others, having once graced the Santiago Bernabeu.

The size of their challenge should also be put into context. In the Champions League knockoutrounds this season, they have been drawn against Paris Saint-Germain, Juve and Bayern; teams of quality, teams who surrender few chances, teams few would bat an eyelid at if they emerged eventual winners of the competition and all of whom ended the campaign as champions of their respective Leagues. 

Against such staunch opposition, winning three Champions Leagues in a row isn’t just a matter luck. Just because we expect it to happen, it doesn’t make the feat any less impressive.

Zidane has now won his fifth Champions League, one as a player, one as an assistant Coach and three as a boss in his own right. Merely a stop-gap after the sacking of Rafa Benitez at first to some, he was groomed to be the one to bring long-term success to Madrid after an era of Barcelona domination.

This latest triumph surely cements his status as both one of Madrid’s greatest players - and greatest Coaches.

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