By Richard Martin
MADRID (Reuters) – Liverpool ended an incredible season by winning Europe’s biggest prize after beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in Saturday’s all-English Champions League final, earning sweet redemption after agonizingly missing out on the Premier League title.
Mohamed Salah scored the second-quickest goal in a Champions League final by converting from the penalty spot in the second minute while Divock Origi sealed victory in the 87th after Liverpool had survived some heavy late pressure from Spurs.
Tottenham, in their first European Cup final, kept their heads after the early setback and came to life when semi-final hat-trick hero Lucas Moura was brought on but, with Harry Kane lacking sharpness, another European comeback was beyond them.
Liverpool, who missed out on the Premier League title to Manchester City by one point, did not produce their usual whirlwind attacking game but Salah’s debatable penalty and Origi’s arrowed finish sealed a sixth European Cup triumph.
“Everyone is happy now,” said Salah as the Liverpool fans rejoiced. “I am glad to play the second final in a row and play 90 minutes finally. Everyone did his best today, no great individual performances, all the team was unbelievable.”
Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold who had marauded down the flank all night, added: “It is hard to put into words. The season we have had, we deserved it more than any other team.”
The win at the Wanda Metropolitano was sweet redemption for Salah and especially Klopp, who had suffered defeat in his last six major finals, including Champions League showpieces with Borussia Dortmund in 2013 and Liverpool last year.
“I am so happy for the boys all these people, and my family. They suffer for me, they deserve it more than anybody,” said the elated German.
“Did you ever see a team like, this, fighting with no fuel in the tank? And we have a keeper (Alisson Becker) who makes difficult things look easy. It is the best night of our professional lives.”
His opposite number Mauricio Pochettino praised his team’s determined efforts to get themselves back into the game.
“We were fighting, and we played so well in the second half. I feel so proud, a little bit unlucky. To be 1-0 down from the start was tough, we changed our plans but we are very proud of these players and these fans. We can be optimistic.”
Liverpool’s win was reward for an outstanding season in which they picked up a club record 97 points in the Premier League but finished behind Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, falling just short of a first league title in 29 years.
However, a sixth European Cup, which took them ahead of Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the all-time list and means they only trail AC Milan on seven triumphs and Real Madrid with 13, will help to compensate for that disappointment.
It was Liverpool’s first Champions League triumph since their incredible comeback against Milan in 2005 and, while this victory lacked the blockbuster drama of that night in Istanbul, it was not exactly a smooth ride in a lackluster affair.
Tottenham manager Pochettino took a bold but ultimately misguided gamble in fielding Kane, who had only returned to full training a week ago after almost two months out with a serious ankle injury and struggled to influence play.
The England striker was far from the only player from both sides who lacked sharpness in a game with few moments of quality, a possible effect of neither side having played any competitive games for three weeks after the domestic season.
Spurs put Liverpool under real pressure in the latter stages as Dele Alli headed over and Son Heung-min and Moura forced impressive saves from Alisson, who also pulled off his best effort to beat away a free kick from Christian Eriksen.
The Brazilian keeper’s reliable display was in stark contrast to what happened last year in Kiev, when Liverpool’s Loris Karius made two horrendous errors which cost his side two goals in their painful 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid.
When the final whistle went, Alisson was mobbed by his team mates while Klopp ran on to the pitch to embrace Origi, one of the heroes in the stunning semi-final second-leg turnaround against Barcelona, who killed the game with a ruthless finish.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)