MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti told Thibaut Courtois that he would take him to the Champions League final, then he would have to win it.
The goalkeeper did just that, with amazing save after amazing save to help the Spanish club win its record-extending 14th European title on Saturday.
There was a spectacular touch with his fingertips to push the ball onto the post. Then a difficult block with his left leg to close a gap. And a superb close-range deflection with his right arm to avoid what appeared to be a sure goal.
With nine saves in total, Courtois was crucial as Madrid defeated Liverpool 1-0 in suburban Paris, securing his first Champions League trophy.
“Nobody was going to take my desire to win the Champions League away from me today,” said Courtois, who was named man of the match. “I was going to do whatever it would take to win it.”
The first-half save off Sadio Mane’s shot from inside the area was impressive, deflecting it to the post and then quickly recovering to cover the ball. The one with his leg to keep Mohamed Salah from scoring from a tough angle also looked difficult. But the one that left everyone in awe came when he stopped Salah’s close range-range shot with a fast reaction to extend his right arm and send the ball wide in the 81st minute.
Courtois said he thought his best save was the one off Mane’s shot.
“I really had to stretch for it and got enough on it to put it onto the post and know where the ball was going to rebound,” the 30-year-old Courtois said. “It’s been incredible. I can’t believe it.”
Ancelotti said after the match that he had a deal with the goalkeeper.
“I told Courtois that I would get him to the final, but he would have to go and win it, and that's what he has done,” said Ancelotti, who won a record fourth European trophy.
Courtois joined Madrid from Chelsea after the Spanish club went on a run of three straight titles in the European club competition from 2016-18. Before that, he used to play for Atlético Madrid, which lost the 2014 Champions League final to Madrid with him in goal.
“Courtois has had a spectacular season,” Madrid President Florentino Pérez said. “For me, he is the best goalkeeper in the world and that’s why we brought him here.”
The Belgian goalkeeper finished with 61 saves in 13 Champions League matches in what is believed to be a record in the competition.
“He was unbelievable,” Madrid striker Karim Benzema said. “He made three or four saves that gave us the title. That’s all there is to it. Congratulations to him because he’s been immense all year and he showed it once again.”
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press