Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane’s side for the Champions League final against Liverpool had no place for Gareth Bale in the starting XI with Isco making the cut.
The Welshman had been widely tipped to be handed a start in Kiev after hitting a rich vein of form in recent weeks but Zidane instead elected to play the same XI that took to the pitch from the outset in Cardiff a year ago, when Real won their 12th European Cup / Champions League title with a 4-1 victory over Juventus with Bale on the bench having recently returned from injury.
That was effectively the only question mark in Zidane’s line-up on Saturday, with the Frenchman benefiting from a fully fit squad in Kiev.
Bale makes the difference from the bench
Bale had cut a peripheral figure in the Champions League knock-out stages this season, failing to get off the bench in the opening legs against Juventus and Bayern and playing just 99 minutes in total over three knock-out ties in the last 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals.
But Bale, who has been the subject of plenty of speculation this season with his future apparently lying elsewhere as he gradually slipped down the pecking order after coming back from another injury in December, will be forever enshrined in Real Madrid folklore after his half-hour in Kiev.
The Welshman turned the game on its head with a glorious overhead strike seconds after coming on to make it 2-1 and then capitalised on a horrendous display by Liverpool keeper Loris Karius to add a second with a long-range effort in the 82nd minute to cap a perfect cameo and perhaps answer a few of his critics this season. Bale also became the first player in history to score more than once after coming on as a substitute in a European Cup final.
Ronaldo on his way out of Madrid?
And while Bale was busy vindicating his place in this record-breaking Real Madrid side, it was Cristiano Ronaldo, who had a fairly quiet evening in Kiev, who cast doubt over his own future at the Bernabéu after the final whistle: "In the next few days I'll give the fans, who have been by my side, an answer. It's been great being at Real Madrid," the Portuguese cryptically told reporters.