Vinicius inspires Real Madrid as Bellingham goes missing and the joke is somehow still on Chelsea

Matt Stead
Borussia Dortmund players Mats Hummels and Marco Reus with Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior in the middle
Real Madrid have only gone and won another sodding Champions League

Dortmund were the better side in the Champions League final but Real Madrid. Their past is gilded, their present is bejeweled and their future is Mbappe.


At least in the case of the Champions League, history is not actually written by the victors. Borussia Dortmund penned almost every line of this lengthy, engrossing, compelling ode to the 2024 final; Real Madrid simply barged in towards the end, changed a couple of details, added their byline and hit publish.

It’s what they do. Even when the Germans seemed to be the only team with a cogent, coherent plan well over an hour into proceedings at Wembley, the overwhelming vibe was not whether Real could respond, but when and how they inevitably would.

After the semi-final heroics of Joselu, no prediction seemed particularly outlandish. Antonio Rudiger in the 81st minute; Ferland Mendy in the 90th; Kepa in stoppage-time, assisted by Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrow. No club is predicated on sheer aura quite like Real Madrid and this decade of often ludicrous continental dominance has fortified and even justified that sense of entitlement.

There is another side of that coin: no club is quite as accurate or prolific when shooting oneself in the foot on the biggest stage as Dortmund. This defeat does not carry with it that same emotional hammer blow as their Bundesliga title implosion of last season – the overriding feeling is one of pride, albeit soured by frustration – but the theme of having glory within their grasp only to let it slip persists.

Those decisive moments will replay in Black and Yellow minds for eternity. Karim Adeyemi choosing the wrong side to round Thibaut Courtois when played through in the gaping void behind the defence. The flowing move which involved six different players and cut through Real but could not be converted. Niclas Fullkrug hitting the post, albeit when probably offside. That all came in the space of a couple of first-half minutes which made a mockery of the pre-match David and Goliath build-up narrative that overrated one side and underestimated the other.

But then there was Ancelotti, casually popping Smints on the sidelines when his contemporaries would have been frantically relaying hastily altered tactical plans or even considering panicked substitutions, so disjointed was pretty much every aspect of this Real performance. Eighteen months at Goodison Park must make any challenge seem manageable.

The Ballon d’Or-bound brilliance of Vinicius Junior was the exception to Real’s general lack of discernible quality. The Brazilian’s battle with Julian Ryerson was thrilling and perpetual. Vinicius glided past the Dortmund right-back a few times but tended to encounter a wild Mats Hummels soon thereafter.

On the one occasion Vinicius did finally beat both with some stunning footwork, it forced the first of two corners in quick succession; Real scored the opener from the second and never looked back.

Dani Carvajal should have scored from a similar situation not long before – his excellent movement to meet a Toni Kroos delivery was let down by too powerful a front-post header soon into the second half – but this time the touch was perfect, the breakthrough was delivered and, in the case of Dortmund, the lesson was not learned.

But it was a huge shame the despairing Hummels did not quite get a strong enough hand to it on the line as he briefly considered channelling Luis Suarez against Ghana.

Both times it was Ian Maatsen who let Carvajal evade him. The Chelsea loanee further obliterated at least some of Todd Boehly’s pure profit by encapsulating Dortmund’s implosion after conceding. His errant pass across his own goal was intercepted by the anonymous Jude Bellingham and soon finished by Vinicius to end the game as a meaningful contest.

👉 Chelsea set for laughable £5m windfall thanks to silly Real Madrid transfer clause
👉 Real Madrid ‘tell’ Liverpool target their exit decision after potential Salah replacement rejects Man Utd

Maatsen likely won’t appreciate it being pointed out that it was his poor touch when trying to block a Federico Valverde shot which led to the corner that eventually broke Dortmund. That ten-minute period was cataclysmically poor from a left-back who had been brilliant until then.

That was the difference: when momentum was against Real, they simply persevered with the experience of a group that knows things tend to work themselves out in their favour. Dortmund spent a fraction of the time fighting that tide but were carried away and consumed by it. They conceded five shots up to the 65th minute, then eight in the half an hour afterwards. Hummels was booked for hacking down Eduardo Camavinga, having barely put a foot wrong beforehand.

Had Dortmund made the most of one of those opportunities, the story might have been different. The same could be said of the influential Vinicius, who could have been sent off for diving when on a booking. But they are far from the first team to be left contemplating those alternative timelines and likely won’t be the last.

As Bellingham said after the game, “they were probably better for the majority but it comes down to moments and I think if you don’t kill us, it’s going to come back to haunt you”. It’s easy to say after the event, but equally the only thing anyone was saying the longer the match went on without a Dortmund goal.

Bellingham’s subsequent discussion with Messrs Mourinho, Ferdinand, McManaman and Woods about open-secret summer transfer plans and potential future teammates only reinforced how much it increasingly feels like this trophy will forever orbit the team who have won it more than twice as often as any other. Kroos retires at the very top but five of Real’s starters were 25 or younger and the impending arrival of Kylian Mbappe means the Champions League future surely belongs to Los Blancos every bit as much as the present and past.

READ NEXTThe ridiculous stats of Kylian Mbappe: 28 Champions League and World Cup knockout goals in 36 games