Champions League final 2017

Titanic tussle awaits in Cardiff

Real Madrid's French coach Zinedine Zidane (L) and Juventus' Italian coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Real Madrid's French coach Zinedine Zidane (L) and Juventus' Italian coach Massimiliano Allegri. PHOTO: AFP

Juve's miserly backline can thwart Real, with Buffon seeking to complete his trophy haul

CARDIFF • Real Madrid's irresistible attack slams into Juventus' seemingly immovable defence today when the free-scoring Spanish football aristocrats hope to become the first club to win the Champions League in successive seasons.

Cardiff's iconic Millennium Stadium provides a fitting venue for a mouthwatering final full of intriguing sub-plots, one of which could see Wales' Gareth Bale make a triumphant return to his home town.

Others include Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon potentially becoming the oldest player to lift the trophy or Real coach Zinedine Zidane, twice a Champions League runner-up with Juve, contriving to break the hearts of those who once idolised him.

Centre stage, as he so often is, will be Cristiano Ronaldo, who has taken Real to within touching distance of a 12th European title after they took their 11th a year ago by beating Atletico Madrid.

Arrigo Sacchi's great AC Milan side were the last to be crowned European champions for a second year running in 1990, but that was before the competition morphed into the Champions League.

LaLiga champions Real are the favourites after scoring 32 goals in 12 games in their run to the final.

 

ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS

Too much humility isn't good. We have to prove our character and who is the best.

'' CRISTIANO RONALDO, Real Madrid forward, wants his side to rise to the occasion as the LaLiga champions aim to clinch their 12th European crown.

Ronaldo has scored 10 of them, and two more would see him move above Barca's Lionel Messi to top this season's Champions League scoring chart.

"Too much humility isn't good. We have to prove our character and who is the best," Ronaldo said. "The final is won by scoring goals. I have the feeling that we are going to play a great game and we are going to win."

While Ronaldo's confidence will embolden Real, Serie A champions Juventus are unbeaten in Europe this season, and are going to their second final in three years, having conceded only three goals.

No wonder 39-year-old Buffon looks like he could play forever, such is the strength of the defence Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri has erected and which Barcelona's Gerard Pique described as a "mountain" after their quarter-final loss.

Buffon craves a Champions League medal to add to his glittering array of silverware after twice suffering heartache in the final.

"If I'd already won the Champions League, I'd be drained," he said. "The fact that I'm still to win it pushes me on."

Buffon's team-mates Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain once played for Real while former Barca full-back Dani Alves will not lack motivation as they seek to end Juve's 21-year wait for the title.

Bale's role in this fairy tale final looks like being of the cameo variety as he has yet to fully recover from the ankle injury he suffered in November. Isco is likely to get the nod in Zidane's starting line-up.

But if the scriptwriters get their way, Bale will come off the bench to spark a fiesta the likes of which Cardiff has never seen before.

REUTERS

JUVENTUS V REAL MADRID

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Titanic tussle awaits in Cardiff'. Print Edition | Subscribe