Champions League final: Liverpool were killed in Kiev by the extraordinary - but hope that took them there is still alive

It meant so much to the Reds but Real had done this too many times before to mess it up

Simon Hughes
Sunday 27 May 2018 09:29 BST
Real Madrid lift the Champions League trophy

A crime scene. The deceased lying on the floor, life draining, his world ending. The perpetrator standing over him, brandishing the murder weapon. A description from Cluedo: Sergio Ramos, with the bicep, in Kiev, on the football pitch, at the Champions League final. Witnesses? The world.

A scene of another kind, though one that is linked. A goalkeeper like the deceased, face down on the floor, his arms splayed out, as though his palms had been stapled to the grass. Another description: Loris Karius. Without his teammates, surrounded instead by those he had helped from Madrid. The location: Kiev. The exact spot: the football pitch. The occasion: the Champions League final. Witnesses? Again, the entire bloody world.

Introduce one of the greatest goals from any European final history into the course of an evening which lurched from the agonising to the harrowing for the losing team and you understand why Liverpool did not have a chance of winning, why hope was lost just when it mattered through a catalogue of events that were unusual if not absolutely unexplainable – or just totally wrong.

Karius would appear again, only this time as a ghost. Like Mohamed Salah before him, the tears would drop from his eye sockets as he apologised to Liverpool supporters when all had been settled and his life sentence had been issued. Liverpool’s relationship with this competition is based around the heroics of their goalkeepers, the wobbly legs of Bruce Grobbelaar and Jerzy Dudek after him.

From here Karius will endure as the goalkeeper whose two mistakes cost Liverpool their shot at immortality. It would be easy to slaughter him but any decent human being would surely offer sympathy. No matter how bad a night it was for anyone wishing for this outcome to be different, it could not have been as bad as Karius'. For him, coming to terms with what has happened will be an enormous challenge. Whether that challenge will take place at Liverpool is another matter altogether.

To explain why this experience is so flattening for Liverpool, you have to detail the contrasting moods between the sets of supporters involved.

Liverpool had travelled to Ukraine in greater numbers, they were brighter in colour and louder in noise. Amidst the foliage of Kiev’s Shevchenko Park, the party started long before midday and soon, the scene to me a mess of bucket hats, song, celebration and unbridled communal expression.

The Madrileños were reserved, many of them taking their time with their coffees and their cigarettes beneath the shade of the porticos in the city. There was no frenzy on their part and no pilgrimage on a scale like there had been from Merseyside – they know this routine better than anyone, having grown accustomed to finals, to success, to gathering cups in May the way Liverpudlians used to.

The walk from city’s centre at Maidan Square included a Red march all the way down Velyka Vasylkivska Street. What those residents high up in apartment blocks above the Georgian restaurants serving dumplings, the blinis houses and the old tobacco shops must have thought at this surging sight of humanity. Liverpool’s supporters were so, so desperate to win. Real were convinced they simply would.

Liverpool were well beaten in the end but you cannot really legislate for the number of outrageous things that went against them. Whenever they have lost this season, the autopsies have immediately focused on the defence but Liverpool’s back four performed well here – with Dejan Lovren delivering arguably his best performance since joining the club. And yet, he was still a part of a defence that conceded three goals.

A forensic analysis sent to opponents hoping to beat Liverpool in the future based on this night alone would include the following point by point advice. One: hire a henchman – or save your time by attempting to somehow hire Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid, someone who somehow manages to balance blatant brutalism with such snidery that occasionally, when he takes a target out, only the departed knows he's been done. Two: Ensure the departed is Liverpool’s best player. Three: introduce a substitute capable of scoring an overhead kick inside 122 seconds. Four: hope for at least two gifts as goals. Inside that context, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo were able to enforce the maximum punishment and in the end, the margin of their team's victory could have been wider.

Maybe that word will be used again in the coming days, the F-word which follows managers around when they deliver excitement but not always trophies. This was Jürgen Klopp’s sixth lost final in a row, didn’t you know? The F-word must be appropriate to use here then surely, the word which is used freely by critics and repeated to the point where it has been said often that it becomes a sort of new reality for many, even amongst some of those who once interpreted matters differently. The F-word is fraud.

Back in the real world, Klopp has delivered hope. Watching his team this season has been a blast. For rivals revelling in Liverpool’s misfortune, particularly those who would struggle to identify what hope was even if it walked by and tried wrestling them to the ground with all the determination of a committed Ramosian, they could well do with looking beyond their own prejudices and think about the shared experiences Klopp has given people that follow him – even all the way to Kiev, even if it might mean sleeping on the cold pavement of a street in the old Eastern bloc.

Ultimately, hope springs from the belief that anything is possible. Ultimately, this was proven here. Ultimately, it is not the way Klopp would have wanted it to finish but it remains an outstanding feature of his cult.

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