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Real Madrid high-wire act brings Champions League glory again



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 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.

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