Real Madrid and Toni Kroos are inevitable

By Sports Desk June 01, 2024

Borussia Dortmund left everything out there on the Wembley Stadium turf, but everything was not enough. For the Champions League belongs to Real Madrid, and to Toni Kroos.

Los Blancos captured their record-extending 15th European crown with a hard-fought 2-0 win over BVB on Saturday, with second-half goals from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Junior punishing Edin Terzic's men for a series of misses.

For all the star power available to them, for all the talk of destiny pitting Jude Bellingham against his former club at the home of English football, Madrid just seem to have a knack for finding unlikely heroes, and Carvajal certainly fits that category.

The identity of Madrid's opening scorer may have been a surprise, but that of the man who created it was not.

In the final game of his storied club career, it was Kroos whose pinpoint corner was glanced home by Carvajal. By the time Kroos was substituted to a rousing ovation in the 85th minute, Ian Maatsen's error had allowed Vinicius in to make the victory safe.

This win was not straightforward, though. With Madrid, things rarely are.

Madrid's road to Wembley was not quite as dramatic as the frankly ridiculous series of events that led to them winning their 14th crown in 2021-22.

On that occasion, Carlo Ancelotti's men pulled off a series of increasingly unlikely rescue acts to break the hearts of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City before Thibaut Courtois kept Liverpool at bay in the final.

They still faced their share of adversity this time around, though. 

Having come under fierce pressure against RB Leipzig in the last 16, they made a dismal start to the home leg of their quarter-final against Manchester City, Phil Foden putting them on the back foot within two minutes. Within another 12, Madrid found themselves 2-1 up.

After a pulsating 3-3 draw, they needed a desperate rearguard action to negotiate 120 minutes at the Etihad Stadium. Pep Guardiola's all-conquering machine fired off shot after shot – 33 in total, the most in any Champions League knockout game since Liverpool attempted 34 against Atletico Madrid in March 2020.

But the ball simply would not go in after Kevin De Bruyne cancelled out Rodrygo's opener, setting the stage for Andriy Lunin's penalty shoot-out heroics to send Madrid through.

In the last four, they produced their best impression of the class of 2022, former Stoke City and Newcastle United man Joselu – much maligned when he arrived on loan last June after a failure to lure Kylian Mbappe – stepping off the bench with a last-gasp brace to stun Bayern Munich.

Ahead of Saturday's match, Madrid had only trailed for 7.5 per cent of their total game time in the Champions League this season (90 minutes out of 1,200), the lowest percentage of any side. 

They had, however, won four matches after falling behind, with only Barcelona in 1999-00 and Los Blancos themselves in 2016-17 (five each) ever recording more comeback wins in a single edition of the tournament. 

Resilience, aura, whatever you want to call it, Madrid have it by the bucketload. 

Onto the final. Madrid were again slow out of the traps, even the effortlessly cool Ancelotti looking slightly ruffled as Dortmund's excellent transition play caught them out time and again.

Madrid were caught flat-footed when Mats Hummels released Karim Adeyemi through on goal midway through the first half, yet the youngster's touch past Courtois took him too far wide and Carvajal recovered with a vital challenge. That was warning number one.

Warning number two came when Maatsen slipped Niclas Fullkrug through on goal two minutes later. There was a hint of offside as the Germany striker stretched to prod goalwards, but an even bigger hint of fortune for Madrid as the ball bounced off the inside of the post and found its way to safety. 

Another six minutes later, warning number three as Adeyemi beat Carvajal in another footrace, his low strike from the angle working Courtois again.

Madrid became the first team to fail to record a shot on target in the first half of a Champions League final since Tottenham versus Liverpool in 2019. Their total of two first-half attempts was their joint-fewest in 55 games this season.

Dortmund had them on the ropes, but like Leipzig, City and Bayern, they failed to deliver the knockout blow. 

For all the exuberance of Terzic's team, for all the noise and colour brought by the Yellow Wall behind them, the outcome somehow felt inevitable, and so it proved.

Kroos began finding his range early in the second half, testing Gregor Kobel with a clever free-kick from near the corner of the area before seeing another set-piece nodded over the top by Carvajal – a sighter for the right-back. 

Dortmund continued to threaten at the other end, though, with Courtois again worked by Fullkrug's diving header just after the hour mark.

The big moment, as is so often the case when Madrid are involved, seemed to come out of nowhere.

One perfect swing of Kroos' right boot, one inch-perfect corner delivery, and Dortmund were on the back foot. 

A Dortmund recovery never looked likely from there, with Madrid slotting into cruise (or should we say Kroos?) control.

The midfielder led all 22 starters for touches (108), passes attempted (94), and passes completed (91), while only Ferland Mendy, with perfect distribution, bettered his passing accuracy (96.8 per cent). Dortmund's Julian Brandt matched his four chances created. 

At half-time, Kroos might have looked jaded as Madrid's midfield was caught cold by Dortmund's rapid transition play. By full-time, he was the coolest man at Wembley.  

When it comes to the big moments, Madrid just know how to dial it up. Perhaps no player quite personifies that trait like Kroos.

When announcing his retirement last month, Kroos said he wished to go out at the very top.

By joining Carvajal, Nacho and Luka Modric in winning six European crowns, a feat only previously achieved by Paco Gento, he has certainly accomplished that. 

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