Liverpool fans spilled off the metro at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano two hours before kick-off of the 2019 Champions League final under a scorching sun and the watchful eye of hundreds of police.
“The difference between the two teams will be the goalkeepers,” opined one of the fans, Liverpudlian John Coleman, who also happens to be the manager of League One side Accrington Stanley.
“He’s stable, he’s less erratic than Hugo Lloris. He gives confidence to the defence. His distribution is excellent, accurate and quick.”
With 11 minutes to play and his team leading 1-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, Alisson Becker, a 26-year-old gaucho from the pampas of southern Brazilian where German is widely spoken, made three saves in a minute.
He made another from a Christian Eriksen free-kick five minutes later before substitute Divock Origi sealed the win with Liverpool’s second.
Alisson’s save after in the final moments from Son Heung-min ensured he became the first goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in a Champions League final since his compatriot Julio Cesar in 2010 – the last final in Madrid.
The stops were notable rather than spectacular. Little was as Liverpool lifted a sixth European Cup with a 2-0 victory in a stifled, sapped, soporific encounter.
The excitement had been used in the semi-finals, though the game spring into life as Liverpool were awarded a penalty within a minute which Mo Salah converted.
Salah and Liverpool’s venerated forwards will earn headlines as much as Virgil Van Dijk was worthy of his man of the match award, but Liverpool can thank two Brazilians signed a year ago for dramatically improving their side. Alisson and midfielder Fabinho have strengthened Liverpool’s defence like Van Dijk.
Fabinho, signed out of the blue from Monaco when fans wanted appeasing after Liverpool lost the 2018 Champions League final, has got better throughout the season.
He sits in front of the defence, wins battles and, according to central defender Joel Matip, gives the rest of the defence confidence.
Alisson has been a success after signing from Roma for a then world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper of £66 million (Dh306m).
His team conceded only 22 goals in 38 games, the best in the league. In the Champions League, he made more saves than any other goalkeeper including a record eight in a final.
Alisson’s rise is no surprise to people who played with him.
“It was easy to see that he was going to be a top goalkeeper,” said Diego Forlan, who was his teammate at Internacional of Porto Alegre. “He had great height, you could see that he had everything to be a top goalkeeper. He’s a very nice guy, too.”
“He’s the best Liverpool keeper I’ve seen since Bruce Grobelaar,” said Steve Kelly, a Liverpool fan in Madrid and author of a dozen books on the club.
“He made a 92nd minutes save against Napoli which kept us in the Champions League at Anfield.”
It is easy to forget that Liverpool's Madrid dreams nearly crumbled in December, having got through on goal difference after losing all three away group games.
“We played Burnley away early in the season,” adds Kelly. “Liverpool were 1-0 up but Burnley were putting us under pressure. They had a later corner. Alisson caught it, quickly started a counter attack and Liverpool scored a second.
"I was a bit worried when he chipped the ball over a Brighton attacker, but he’s won us all over.”
Alisson commands his penalty box, he takes risks. He played well home and away against Barcelona in the semi-finals.
Little phases the man who plays the guitar and has long liked Oasis, learning words from lyrics as he learns English. He wears No 13 as Loris Karius, at fault for two goals in the 2018 final and still a Liverpool player, was the No 1 when he signed.
Alisson rarely warms up with the team, so relaxed that he only puts his training kit on two minutes before the session starts.
Alisson will return home to his home city of Novo Hamburgo (New Hamburg). It’s an untidy city of a 250,000 long famous in Brazil for the production of shoes.
The industry sank when production moved to Asia and times are hard in the city which produced another world class player, Maicon.
They can celebrate Alisson now, who took his shirt off to celebrate to an almighty roar in front of the Liverpool end at the final whistle. Along with Fabinho, he touched the ball fewer times than any other player on the pitch except Harry Kane. Yet when he did, it mattered.