Real Madrid: Courtois grows up in the shootout | Sports | The USA Print

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Courtois, against Mbappe during the PSG-Real Madrid round of 16 Champions League match.
Courtois, against Mbappe during the PSG-Real Madrid round of 16 Champions League match.François Mori (AP)

As soon as they lost the Champions League final in Lisbon in 2014, at the wake in the Atlético locker room, several of the bosses of the booth broke the gloomy atmosphere to encourage the rest of their teammates not to give up despite the drama of the moment because, according to them, warned, the possibility of reaching the great European title in the short term was real. Thibaut Courtois watched this ceremony of collective self-affirmation, but he knew that if another opportunity arose for that group – as it did two years later in Milan – he would no longer be there. Chelsea was waiting for him, the club that had the rights to him and that claimed him after three seasons on loan at the Calderón. The Belgian was never again so close to a big eared Like that cold night in the Portuguese capital, where he ended up on the ground against Madrid, precisely, by Carlo Ancelotti.

If you could take only one trip to the past, what would it be? They asked him just a few months ago. “To the Lisbon final. to stop it [el cabezazo de Ramos]”, he replied with a half smile. Next to him then, as a substitute, was Dani Aranzubia, today the goalkeeping coach in the Athletic subsidiary. “Then we didn’t talk about that action, there was little to say,” he recalls sadly. The Riojan describes that Courtois from eight years ago as “one more veteran” despite his young age (21). “He was not the typical clueless young man. He had things very clear and even handled four or five languages. Time has given him the grounds to exploit his physical and technical qualities even better”, he analyzes.

Now, under the mantle of Carletto, the appointment in Paris against Liverpool places the white pipe before a new opportunity to catch the only club medal that is missing from the home shelf. Between Atlético, Chelsea and Madrid, he has lifted all possible titles, except this one. A window that opens, to a large extent, thanks to his saving stretches in the most critical phases of Madrid, which have not been exactly few. At various times he was shot and always ended up finding an answer in the storm. He avoided greater evils before the burst of artillery from Mbappé and saved a penalty from Messi; he saved Chelsea’s 0-4 in a header from Havertz; and for the memory of this crazy Champions there is his stop with the tacos to Grealish, from City, just two minutes before Rodrygo and the Bernabéu went into a trance.

He has the best save percentage (77.8%), and no goalkeeper in the semi-finalists has received more shots (63) or made more saves (50)

None of his colleagues has offered a better save percentage throughout the tournament (77.8%; Liverpool’s Alisson has 51.8%) and no one has been as challenged as he has been. Of the four semifinalists, Courtois is the one who has received the most shots on goal in the competition (63, to the 56 by Rulli -Villarreal-, the 29 by Ederson -City- and the 27 by Alisson) and the one who has made the most saves ( 50; Rulli 41, Ederson 15 and Alisson 14).

From post kyiv to pre Paris

From the debut against Inter (0-1), where he closed the night with several worthwhile saves and his classic chest blow – “let them see that it’s not easy to score a goal” –, to the PSG-Chelsea trilogy of miracles -City, two names have been the least common multiple of this Madrid: Benzema and Courtois. From the round of 16 to the semi-finals, the Belgian has saved twice as many (28) as Alisson in the entire Champions League, a figure that explains the precipice over which Ancelotti’s team has walked and the ability of his goalkeeper to replicate. In Saint Dennis he is presented as the hegemonic meta of the moment, although with a not insignificant competition, especially if he is compared to Karius’ trembling in the 2018 final.

He is the only one of those who arrived after 2018 who has made the entire journey on the front line together with the surviving old guard

In this four-season journey of Madrid from the post-kyiv trauma (due to the departures of Cristiano and Zidane) to the epic road to Paris, Courtois is the only one of all those who have arrived in that locker room after the three Champions Leagues in a row that he has been the protagonist all the way along with the surviving old guard. Some veterans fell (Marcelo, Isco and Bale), others left (Varane and Ramos), today’s thriving youngsters took time to flourish (Vinicius, Rodrygo, Valverde and Militão), the most expensive signing (Hazard) never acted as such and another basic piece like Alaba hasn’t even been a year.

The Belgian, however, has eaten the entire legislature as a main course and his performance has followed the path of the team: hesitant at first (when he cohabited with Keylor Navas) and on the rise since the triumph of the coronaliga. Intramuros de Valdebebas, few players attract so many compliments from the club. “The best thing that has happened through this locker room in years. Friendly, dynamic, the quintessential modern footballer, ”proclaim sources with access to the booth. The great frequency with which he is chosen to be the first voice of the team after each game speaks of a growing weight behind the scenes.

A fan of many sports such as the NBA, NFL, cycling or Formula 1 -in his time at Chelsea he even flew to the United States for a weekend to attend games-, as soon as he eliminated City he said goodbye in the middle of the heat with a phrase as typical at the Bernabéu as it is daring: “Madrid, when it reaches a final, wins it”. It is in his hands.

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