Last night we were treated to the best Champions League final in recent times. The defending champions were aiming to be the first club to successfully defend club football’s most prestigious trophy since AC Milan 3 decades ago. If that is not incentive enough, the all time record holders were attempting to increase their haul to 12.
It was a beauty vs the beast contest, Juventus the serial champions of Serie A vs the recently crowned La Liga winners. The Old Lady of Turin made it to their second final in 3 seasons on the back of typically solid Italian defense and a spring of solid tactical masterclasses notably against Barcelona in the quarter finals. Their miserly defense conceded only 3 goals leading up to the final. The Los Blancos on the other hand blazed their way to the final scoring goals for fun. Their talisman forward Cristiano Ronaldo and world footballer of the year became the first player to score 100 goals in the champions league.
Juventus made a strong start to the game as they took the game to Madrid taking some promising pot shots on goal. The champions gradually got a foot hold in midfield and they took the lead in a sweeping move started and finished off by the imperious Ronaldo. This was the way the neutrals wanted it, now the ultra tactical Italians must come out to play.
If the Old Lady was stunned, it did not shake her off her stride. Mario Mandzukic scored a spectacular equalizer when he chested the ball and volleyed over his head into to the top corner beyond the despairing dive of Navas. It was a beauty, the commentators compared it Zidane’s goal against Bayer Leverkusen for Real Madrid in 2002. The match was very open and made for a great spectacle as we went to halftime level at 1 all.
If the first half was a 50 – 50 affair, the second half was all about Real Madrid. They went into beast mode and completely blew Juventus away. The midfield trio of Casemiro (my new favourite footballer), Modric and the Rolls Royce of a player that is Toni Kroos took total control of the game. Juventus simply had no answer and it was no surprise when Casemiro scored. In keeping with the standard of the game it was a golazo. A long range belter from all of 30 yards went in via a deflection. Just as Juventus were about to rally Cristiano Ronaldo confirmed his Ballon D’Or 2017 and Real Madrid’s 12th Champions League title with another goal. You could almost see tears rolling down the cheeks of Buffon as he watched the ball go in.
Real Madrid was not troubled for the remainder of the game. Their captain even had time to dive and get Cuadrado sent off in the most disgraceful act of the entire season. Asensio came on to score off some wonderful work by the excellent Marcelo in the dying minutes of the game. The night rightfully belonged to Champions.
One cannot but feel sorry for the Old Lady and their Captain the legendary Buffon. They have lost 2 finals in the last 3 years with Buffon’s bad luck stretching back to their 2003 loss to AC Milan on penalties. In what may well be his last finals every neutral was rooting for him as he winds down his illustrious career in which the champions league is the only missing honour. He is truly one of football’s good guys.
Juventus have been serial underachievers in the Champions League given their total dominance of the Italian game. They have only won it 2 times compared to 7 titles won by Milan. They have lost the finals more than any other club and they must be wondering what they have to do to win it now. I personally feel that apart from Dybala they lack flair in the team. Once Real Madrid isolated him there was nobody else. Higuain is a deadly striker in the box, not very useful outside it. Despite all his hard-work, Mandzukic is a Center Forward and playing on the left side of a front 3 robs the team both going forward and defending. He is not fast enough to go past people and dribbling is not his forte. They need technicians and magicians like Nedved. Dare I say, Juventus need a player like Alexis upfront if they are to take the final step of winning the champions league.
To a man every Real Madrid stepped up to the plate. They functioned like a well oiled machine everywhere on the pitch. They were solid in defense, creative in midfield and deadly in attack. With a relatively young team entering their prime and arguably the best player in the world in CR7, they look set to dominate this competition for another season. For a club that lives for the Champions League, these are the best days to be a Madrista.