A goal to grace any final by the world's costliest player, Zinédine Zidane, won the tenth UEFA Champions League final for Real Madrid and gave the famous Spanish club their ninth European crown at Hampden Park, the venue of their most celebrated victory of all.
Madrid's 2-1 success over Bayer Leverkusen was not on a par with their 7-3 win against Eintracht Franfurt 42 years before, but the sight of Zidane's volley finding the top corner of Leverkusen's net on the stroke of half-time may live just as long in the memory of those who saw it. It also capped the club's centenary year in impressive style.
Leverkusen were never overrun, as some had predicted they would be, and but for some acrobatics by Madrid's substitute goalkeeper Iker Casillas near the end, they might even have taken the game into extra time. But for most of the match Madrid seemed to have the German side's measure as Leverkusen were denied a trophy at the very last for the third time this season.
No great surprises
There were no great surprises in either line-up: Fernando Morientes was preferred to Guti in attack for Madrid, while Thomas Brdarić replaced the suspended Zé Roberto for Leverkusen and Boris Živković took over in central defence from the injured Jens Nowotny. In Nowotny's absence, Carsten Ramelow captained the Bundesliga club on the biggest night in their history.
The opening skirmishes were inconclusive, notable only for three Leverkusen fouls, the third of which gave Madrid a free-kick 30 metres out that was wasted by Luís Figo. Moments earlier Roberto Carlos caught Leverkusen napping with a long throw from halfway that Zidane almost latched on to.
Bayer might have heeded that warning but when, on eight minutes, Madrid's Brazilian full-back launched another mammoth throw from just inside his own half, Raúl González raced on to it unchallenged. The UEFA Champions League's all-time leading marksman slid the ball beyond Hans-Jörg Butt to open the scoring and leave Leverkusen's defenders to point accusing fingers at each other.
It was just the start their coach Klaus Toppmüller must have dreaded but, not for the first time this term, Leverkusen showed their character and struck back quickly. Just another six minutes had elapsed when Michael Ballack was impeded near the left touchline by Míchel Salgado. Bernd Schneider swung over the free-kick and Lúcio climbed above Madrid captain Fernando Hierro to head Leverkusen level.
After that there were half-chances at either end, for Morientes and for Brdarić, as Madrid swiftly realised they would have to work hard to take the title. Clearly, however, Toppmöller was still not satisfied with his own team as he withdrew a disconsolate Brdarić after 37 minutes and replaced him with Dimitar Berbatov.
But just when it looked like the sides would go in level at the break, Zidane showed why many still rate him as the world's best player. Santiago Solari found Carlos racing down the left wing and his cross dropped invitingly for Zidane, on the edge of the area, to score with a perfectly executed left-foot volley.
The Madrid supporters were in understandably good voice as the second half got under way, with Viva España replacing Leverkusen's adopted anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone, as the predominant sound around the ground. A last-ditch tackle by Zivković prevented Raúl from increasing Madrid's lead before Figo, the FIFA World Player of the Year who had looked distinctly out of sorts, was substituted by Steve McManaman on the hour.
Leverkusen's veteran striker Ulf Kirsten came on shortly after that but the Germans seemed to be running out of ideas and needed a flash of inspiration, or a touch of luck, to get back in the game. They might have got it when Real goalkeeper César Sánchez was forced to leave the field after picking up a leg injury, yet the calibre of his replacement, Spanish international Iker Casillas, was hardly likely to fill Leverkusen with hope.
Lúcio tried his best to rally the troops with some trademark forays upfield, but of course as he did so more and more gaps began to appear in the German defence, with Zidane in particular eager to exploit them. Madrid made their final change, Flávio Conceição for Claude Makélélé, before Morientes was a toe-poke away from converting McManaman's cross. A minute later the same player was denied by Lúcio's brave challenge.
When it became apparent we were to have seven minutes' injury time, the anxiety showed in the Madrid ranks and Leverkusen poured forward. Ballack, Yıldıray Baştürk and Berbatov, with a header and then a shot, all went close, and even keeper Butt nodded narrowly over from a free-kick. However Casillas, kept out of the side for so long this season, emerged as a hero to rival Zidane with three breathtaking saves in the dying seconds, as Madrid marched on to be kings of Europe once more.
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