It was neither Gareth Bale’s double, nor Real Madrid’s hat trick of winning Europe’s premier competition that became the most talked about incidents from the 2018 UEFA Champion’s League final. Since the showpiece in Kiev, the most talked about incident has probably been Mohammed Salah’s injury in the hands of Sergio Ramos and the unfortunate shenanigans of Liverpool’s goalkeeper Loris Karius. While my Facebook news feed was blowing up with emotional statuses about Mo Salah’s world cup chances, there was the disappointing conclusion that he might not win the Ballon d’Or this year like many had hoped. Thus, the hopes of ending the ending the two-man-show Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo has been running for the past couple years have basically gone up in smokes. But apart from quite possibly missing out from the most prestigious individual award of the footballing world, the fact that Salah might not make it to Egypt’s World Cup squad is devastating for Egypt. The African side has only qualified for the World Cup finals for the third time and naturally they were putting high hopes on their star player who played a pivotal role in their world cup qualifier campaign.
The foul play that caused Mohammed Salah’s shoulder dislocation was nothing but controversial. People were mostly unanimous in the opinion that Sergio Ramos intentionally dragged him to the ground along with him. There were some who admitted seeing the video replay that it was Salah who was grabbing tight to Ramos’ arm which naturally caused him to go down along with him but for the most part, people were furious at the Spain international. Even when fans of Real Madrid were asked how they felt about the Salah injury, many of them expressed their sympathies. Dibbo Pradip Roy is such a fan and he adamantly opined, “The tackle wasn’t intentional and the replay clearly shows that. As a supporter of the opposing side, I have to admit that his absence might have helped us because Liverpool had much of the possession in the first half. As a fan of the game though, I feel sorry for Mohammed Salah. He is certainly an amazing player and the momentum totally shifted due to his injury. The game would have been more competitive and entertaining if he was on the pitch the whole time. In the end, we all want a good game of football, don’t we?”
The Real Madrid defender is no stranger to foul play. He has had many controversial moments (I’m not going to deny enjoying all the drama that goes on in La Liga. It is sort of my guilty pleasure.). I especially remember the time he infamously physically confronted Lionel Messi and his then Spanish teammates Carlos Puyol and Xavi Hernadez of Barcelona during a 2010 El Clasico showdown in which Real Madrid lost 5-0. Sergio Ramos has many red cards in his record due to his generally abrasive style of play but they have hardly ever caused such devastation that might be waiting for Egypt if Mohammed Salah does not recover in time to make it to the final 23-man world cup squad bound for Russia. The nations have until 4th of June to submit their final squad lists to FIFA authorities. Things are looking up now for Egypt though as the Egyptian Football Association has announced that Salah will be fit to play in the World Cup group stages. Egypt’s opening match is on 15th June against Uruguay and the second is against host nation Russia. Even if Salah does not recover in time for those two matches, he is sure to play in Egypt’s final group match against Saudi Arabia on 25th. A post on EFA’s Facebook page stated that he will not miss more than three weeks of World Cup action. As a Manchester United fan, I have never been one to feel sympathy for the Liverpool forward, but as a supporter of the underdogs in international competitions, I was certainly looking forward to seeing him in action in Russia as nothing but a well-wisher.
To highlight the dissatisfaction and widespread loathing towards the Madrid skipper after the final in Kiev, someone has actually started a petition calling for him to be “punished” and he has basically become Public Enemy No.1. The petition has reached over 217k signatures in less than a day and those did not belong only to Liverpool fans. An Egyptian lawyer has even filed a lawsuit for €1 billion against Sergio Ramos. The lawsuit is unlikely to ever reach the court but it goes proves how furious his countrymen were even though the Champions League final does not affect them directly.
For Liverpool fans, there wasn’t just the disappointment caused by Mo Salah’s injury, but to add salt to the wound, goalkeeping errors by Loris Karius messed up the entire game. Adding to the ultimate heartache of reaching the UEFA Champions League final for the first time in 13 years and with aspirations for a repetition the 2005 final in Turkey. But instead of a crucial match winning phantom goal, they were distressed by multiple goalkeeping errors by Loris Karius, by virtue of whom, Karim Benzema scored Madrid’s opening goal. Though, in the first half of the game he made a brilliant save when Christiano Ronaldo took a close range from inside the box which Karius deflected but Benzema immediately tapped in, only to be ruled offside by the linesman. Later Benzema got extremely lucky when Karius made the goalkeeping error of the decade. The situation was so utterly ridiculous that even one of the commentators could not help saying, “Unbelievable! Karim Benzema with a goal! Liverpool can’t believe it.” It was sheer dumb luck on Benzema’s part, but it served the purpose of completely demoralizing Karius.
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane made it even for the Merseysiders and it seemed like they again were on the right track with Mane making another attempt by hitting the crossbar. But Gareth Bale came on as a substitute for Isco in the 60th minute and executed a magnificent bicycle kick to put the defending champions in the lead. The Welshman’s second strike was owing to another blunder by Loris Karius who barely made an attempt to stop the ball or so it seemed. This gaffe made him prone to a particular meme on the internet comparing Karius to a candy bar called “Butterfinger”. The immediate reaction by Liverpool fans were understandably furious but Karius was visibly in tears after the game. He had to be hauled to his feet after the final whistle by goalkeeping coach John Achterberg. As he made his way to the stands to apologize to the travelling fans, he could barely contain the flood of tears. The scene was heartbreaking for many Liverpool fans and they later took to the social media with consoling messages and Liverpool’s age old slogan, “You will never walk alone”. On the other hand, not all Liverpool fans were that forgiving. Twitter flooded with anguished messages like, “You deserve to walk alone from Kiev to Anfield” and “Karius out”. One Liverpool fan went as far as to even call him a Nazi on Twitter. It’s safe to say that he wasn’t mellowed by Karius’ tearful display of apology.
Loris Karius put up a public apology on his Instagram account where he wrote, “Haven’t really slept until now. The scenes are still running through my head again and again. I’m infinitely sorry to my teammates, for you fans, and for all the staff, I know that I messed it up with the two mistakes and let you all down. As I said I’d just like to turn back the time but that’s not possible”. Some fans accepted the apology but could not quite forgive him and asked him to never wear the team’s jersey again. Some were entirely forgiving and were standing behind him 100% and encouraged him to come back stronger next time, if there even is a next time for him at the Merseyside outfit. Liverpool fan Samin Yasar expressed pretty much the same opinion when he said,” I forgive him but this should be the last time he wears the (Liverpool) shirt. I am not particularly sad because of losing because the road to the finals was great and I am glad we reached it.” The media has dubbed Karius the “worst transfer mistake for Klopp” ever since the 5 time European champion’s unfortunate day. It was a day that also marks Jurgen Klopp’s sixth straight defeat in a cup final. His last win in the finals of a tournament came in 2012 when Klopp’s side Borussia Dortmund beat Bayern Munich in a 5-2 win in the German Cup final. He later went on to lose two finals to Bayern Munich, namely, both the 2013 Champion’s League (when it was an all-German final) and the 2014 German Cup finals. Klopp’s latest defeat has shed plenty of the limelight on his losing streak and has become a matter of discourse among most football fans who has been following his career for most part of this decade.
Real Madrid fans weren’t completely free of petulance though. As per Cristiano Ronaldo’s ill-mannered tradition at the end of each season, he again threw doubts over his future at Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo declared “it was very nice to be at Real Madrid” following his club’s third straight Champions League title. Cristiano Ronaldo played hardly any role in their Champion’s League final win against Liverpool and instead of congratulating and celebrating the sensational strike by Gareth Bale, he decided to drop a bombshell and made headlines in all the local newspapers. The timing of Ronaldo’s remarks caused bewilderment and anger among the rest of the dressing room and as well as fans, with many feeling it was not the right time to air his grievances. “He does it at the end of every season”, Real Madrid fan Jubair said. ”He raises questions about his future at the end of every season just to raise his market value and salary and then makes it clear that he isn’t going to leave. But saying this just to get the limelight after winning the Champion’s League was a bit selfish. Maybe he did not think it through but he definitely should have.” he went on to add. Even Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was vexed at Ronaldo for his ill-timed statements but Ronaldo later said that he isn’t going anywhere during the squad’s victory parade.