Football: Real seen entering golden age after feat of retaining title

Mario Mandzukic levelling for Juventus with an amazing overhead kick. Real's class was clear in the second half as they ran out 4-1 winners.
Mario Mandzukic levelling for Juventus with an amazing overhead kick. Real's class was clear in the second half as they ran out 4-1 winners.PHOTO: REUTERS

CARDIFF • Real Madrid's original Galacticos could not do it. Neither could the Dream Team that Johan Cruyff built in Barcelona in the 1990s, nor their spiritual heir, constructed by Pep Guardiola and fuelled by Lionel Messi, two decades later.

Several iterations of Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester United and AC Milan, teams regarded as among the best of their age, of this age, fell short. Louis van Gaal's Ajax came closer than most, only to see glory snatched away by penalties.

For the first 25 years after the European Cup morphed into the Champions League, no team were able to retain the title. It had come to be seen as the final frontier, football's ultimate club honour, the feat that would separate the immortal from the merely great.

On Saturday, the current incarnation of Real at last broke through the barrier. This side did not need to win another Champions League to have their place in history. They had won two of the previous three competitions, beating their fierce rivals, Atletico Madrid, in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2014 and again, on penalties, in Milan last year. But in sweeping past Juventus 4-1, the team turned their recent primacy into something more lasting.

In time, this will be remembered as Real's era, when they won, won again, and won again.

Juventus started with a blistering urgency, but over the course of the match, Real's superiority shone through. The Italian giants' defensive wall had been almost impregnable all season in Europe but were reduced to rubble in Cardiff.

The granite-like trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci cracked after Juventus had been the better side in a first half that ended 1-1.

"In the first half, we played beautifully but they pushed the accelerator in the second half and we could not resist," said Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri, whose side were reduced to 10 men in the 84th minute when substitute Juan Cuadrado was harshly sent off for a second yellow card following the slightest of contacts with Sergio Ramos' back. "The two goals in quick succession hurt us and we were not able to react."

Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon, the greatest goalkeeper of his generation, knows just how difficult it is to win just one Champions League.

"To win this Cup, you have to be stronger than everything against you," he said after losing in a final for a third time. "In the second half, their class, their strength, their ability to win these challenges was seen and they deservedly won."

It was Real's record-extending 12th European Cup/Champions League title. A huge part of that success was due to winning the first five editions of the competition from 1956 to 1960 but Spanish newspaper El Pais acknowledged that the LaLiga champions have established another period of dominance.

"Real Madrid enter into a new golden age", it wrote. Few would disagree.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Real seen entering golden age after feat of retaining title'. Print Edition | Subscribe