PARIS: Liverpool and Real Madrid meet in the Champions League final in Paris on Saturday, with Jurgen Klopp’s side aiming to end the season with a trophy treble while the Spanish giants will look to Karim Benzema to inspire them to a 14th European Cup victory.
A crowd of 80,000 will pack into the Stade de France for the 9:00pm (1900 GMT) kickoff, as Liverpool and Real compete for European club football’s most prestigious prize for the second time in five years.
The final promises to be a fitting climax to the European season, with Liverpool looking to win a second Champions League in four seasons just days after they narrowly lost out to Manchester City in the Premier League title race.
They have already won the English League Cup and FA Cup.
“If you are a football person you know what my boys did so far this season was exceptional,” Klopp said on Friday.
“But we all know you are judged by the colour of the medal after a game.
“I’m more than happy and proud of what we did so far, it’s really special. I will feel better if we win the game and that’s all that I am concerned about,” Klopp added.
The German has been boosted by the news that midfield duo Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara are fit to play.
This final is only being played in Paris after Saint-Petersburg was stripped of the game following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Up to 60,000 Liverpool supporters have travelled to the French capital, most without tickets.
With only 20,000 supporters from each club allowed to attend the final, tens of thousands of Liverpool fans packed into a fanzone set up in the east of the city, turning a tree-lined avenue into a sea of red.
“Look by yourself, we’ve taken over all of Paris!” Rohan Sood, 22, from London, told AFP.
Bitter memories of 2018
Liverpool can win their seventh European Cup, which would take them level with AC Milan and leave only Real with more victories.
The Anfield club have bitter memories of losing 3-1 to Real in Kyiv in 2018, when Mohamed Salah went off injured in the first half following a challenge by the now-departed Sergio Ramos.
Gareth Bale scored twice for the Spaniards and errors by goalkeeper Loris Karius undermined Liverpool’s challenge.
Madrid are looking to win their fifth Champions League in nine seasons and, ominously, have won on all of their last seven final appearances.
While Liverpool saw off Inter Milan, Benfica and Villarreal in the knockout rounds, Carlo Ancelotti’s Real produced a series of memorable comebacks to beat Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and then Manchester City.
“It is a great success for all of us to be here. We know very well the demands at this club, the history, but for us to get here is huge,” said Ancelotti.
“We are convinced that the season has already been very, very good but now we are very close to getting the big one.”
Eyes on Benzema
Liverpool look to have the stronger side on paper, with Alisson in goal, Virgil van Dijk marshalling their defence and Salah and Sadio Mane leading their attack.
Yet Real are pinning their hopes on Benzema, the 34-year-old Frenchman who has 15 goals in the competition this season.
He has scored 44 times altogether this season to lead Real to the Spanish title and is the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or.
“He is for sure one of the best players in the world, probably the best forward in the world, and I’m sure the most underestimated player maybe in history,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told AFP on Friday.
Ancelotti said of Benzema: “He has more personality and leadership on and off the field now but what has not changed is his quality and he remains as humble as ever.”
Ancelotti can become the first coach to win the Champions League four times, having also triumphed with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007 and with Real Madrid in his first spell in 2014 – he is currently level on three wins with Zinedine Zidane and Bob Paisley.
This will be the third final between the clubs, who also met in Paris in 1981, when the English side triumphed thanks to Alan Kennedy’s goal at the Parc des Princes.