CAPE TOWN – If a football game is to be lost, then, I guess, it’s best that it is to a wonder goal as Gareth Bale produced in Saturday night’s Uefa Champions League final at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev.
If a football game is to be won, then how better than the audacious, outrageous overhead kick from the Welshman as Real Madrid broke Liverpool hearts in a remarkable 3-1 victory.
For Liverpool, the tears were real; for the Anfield club’s devoted followers, myself included, the pain is just as real. But, at the same time, it’s as important to appreciate that the Spanish giants fully deserved their success: the win over Liverpool makes it their 13th Champions League triumph overall, the last three on the trot.
Football fans, I hope, are the same all over the world. And, in games such as these, blinkers have no place. Despite Mohamed Salah's early exit and blundering goalkeeper Loris Karius, there is no doubt Real were the better team. Liverpool were simply not good enough; their frailties laid bare by the superior technical ability and tactical awareness of the Spanish side.
As a Reds fan, I thought I’d remember the words of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, from his popular football book, called Soccer in Sun and Shadow: “I am a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.”
Agreed. Because, as much as I would have wanted Liverpool to win, it would have been a travesty if they had. The sheer simplicity of Real’s football was a joy to watch. The slick passing, the composure and intelligence in possession to bypass Liverpool’s relentless high press and, of course, in response Galeano’s plea for a “pretty move”, there was that most extraordinary moment of magic from Bale.
And, as such instances of brilliance often do, it evoked memories of other such feats.
Who can forget Hampden Park in Glasgow in 2002, when current Los Blancos coach, Zinedine Zidane, produced a volley that defied belief as Real defeated Bayer Leverkusen?
Who can forget that most unforgettable European Cup final in 1960 when the great Alfredo Di Stefano netted an incredible hat-trick as Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3? A game still today considered to be one of the greatest of all time - and the venue? Hamden Park.
Kiev will no longer be some obscure city in the Ukraine - it will be remembered forever. In the same way that Glasgow continues to reverberate in the memory with echoes of Di Stefano and Zidane, so, too, Kiev will be eternally linked to Bale.
For Liverpool, it was a gut-wrenching reminder that the team is still far, far from the finished article - and manager Jurgen Klopp urgently needs to strengthen quite a few areas of the squad. Depth, for one: Real were able to bring Bale off the bench, while the English team had to do with Adam Lallana.
And, much as Real are celebrated for the class and flair of Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the ugly, messy business is looked after rather effectively by captain Sergio Ramos and the under-rated Raphael Varane.
Ramos will, of course, again be viewed as the villain, as he so often is. But, whatever your opinion may be of the pugnacious Real skipper, he remains a most inspirational figure. He elevates those around him, while his indomitable spirit is the glue that holds everything together.
It’s great to have skilful players in a team - but ask any footballer and he’ll tell you that Ramos is the type of player he’d most like to have alongside him when heading into battle in such high-profile games.
For Klopp, well, he will have to try again; that’s his second loss in a Champions League final (the other the 2013 defeat to Bayern Munich at Wembley).
Zidane, on the other hand, is the first manager to win the competition in three successive seasons. Who says great players can’t become great managers or coaches?