Defending champions, Real Madrid are set to make history in today’s UEFA Champions League final at the Cardiff’s Principality Stadium as the Los Blancos are hoping to be the first team in open era to win the competition back-to-back. Standing between them is Juventus, who are craving for a third title in the competition.
Defeat to Barcelona in April’s memorable El Clasico ensured a tense finish to La Liga for Real Madrid but seven league wins in a row saw Zinedine Zidane’s men wrap up the title on the final day of the season. The Spanish giants are looking to secure a historic 12th European crown today and will become the first side to defend the Champions League trophy should they win.
The big talking point for Real before today is whether Gareth Bale will make the starting line-up in his hometown. The Welshman is struggling for match fitness after an ankle injury and admitted this week that he may not play the full 90 minutes. Isco is most likely to take his place.
Juventus enjoyed a more sedate climax to the Serie A season, cantering home to a sixth successive title as well as winning the Coppa Italia. But for all their domestic success, Juve’s record in Europe is a disappointing one when compared to other big sides across the continent.
However, after dispatching Porto, Barcelona and neutrals’ favourites Monaco on the way to the final and with manager Max Allegri having a fully fit squad to pick from, Juve will fancy their chances of picking up a third European crown.
After turning 32 earlier this season, many questioned whether the Portuguese forward was past his best. While less likely to roam around the pitch and dominate the play as in his younger days, Ronaldo has now adapted his game to become one of the best poachers in Europe.
After notching 49 goals in as many appearances this season there would be no better way to prove the doubters wrong and cement his place as favourite for a fifth Ballon d’Or with a man of the match performance and a winners’ medal today.
It has been 19 years since these sides met in the Champions League final in Amsterdam. Real ran out 1-0 winners thanks to second-half strike from Predrag Mijatovic.
Zinedine Zidane, who played in midfield for Juve that day, will be hoping his evening turns out differently today.
Meanwhile, at 39 years of age, Juventus goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon can look back on a career where he has won almost everything there is to win in the game – except for the Champions League title.
Today Buffon, the finest goalkeeper of his generation, can add the medal he misses the most if his Juventus team can overcome the 11-time European champions and make him the oldest player to win the continent’s top prize.
At club level, Buffon got off to a winning start, claiming the Uefa Cup and the Italian Cup with Parma in 1999. With Juventus he has won the Italian league ‘scudetto’ 10 times, although two of those titles were later rescinded following investigations.
In the colours of the national team, under the guidance of his former Juve coach Marcello Lippi, Buffon won the World Cup with the Azzurri in 2006, making up for the disappointment of missing out on Italy’s European Championship success in 2000 due to injury.
Twice the keeper has been in the final of the Champions League but both times the Bianconeri went home as runners-up – to AC Milan on penalties in Manchester in 2003 and against Barcelona in Berlin two years ago.
But his brilliance as a keeper is widely recognised and his enthusiasm for the game and his warm personality have made him hugely popular with his peers of all clubs and nationalities.
“If they weren’t up against Madrid, I would want him to win the Champions with all my heart,” former Real keeper Iker Casillas said this week.
“He deserves it – Gigi shouldn’t end his career without a Champions League,” added the Spaniard, currently with Portuguese club Porto.
Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi has no mixed feelings in rooting for a Buffon and Juventus win.
“I think Juventus will win the Champions League. I want them to do it for Gigi Buffon,” he said recently.
The keeper himself has made no secret of the fact that he desperately wants that missing medal.
“It would mean a lot for me. It would be the greatest joy of my career, together with the World Cup, because it would almost be a reward – the end of a very difficult road paved by bravery, stubbornness and hard work.
“I have always wanted to win it and I have always been convinced that I can do it together with my team, the fans, my colleagues,” he said.
With just one year left on his contract at Juventus and his 40th birthday on the horizon, this might be the Tuscan’s last chance to taste that joy.
• This match is a repeat of the 1998 final in Amsterdam, won 1-0 by Real Madrid against a Juventus .
• Juve have won the trophy twice, in 1985 and 1996, but have lost in the final six times – more than any other club.
• Juventus have won nine and drawn three of their 12 games in this season’s competition, and are seeking to become the first team to lift the trophy unbeaten since Manchester United in 2007/08.
• Madrid and Juve will both be competing in their sixth UEFA Champions League final, equalling AC Milan’s record.
• Madrid have won all five of their UEFA Champions League finals, a record number of wins, while Juve have lost the fixture more times than any other.
• This is a ninth European Cup final appearance for Juventus, who have lost their last four. Overall their record is W2 L6:
• Gianluigi Buffon is the sole survivor of Juventus’s 2003 final appearance in their 2016/17 squad.
• Buffon, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Claudio Marchisio all started the 2015 final for Juve, with Stefano Sturaro an unused substitute. Giorgio Chiellini missed out through injury.
• Sami Khedira was part of the victorious Real Madrid team in 2014; he, Mario Mandžukić, a winner with Bayern the previous year, and Dani Alves (Barcelona 2009, 2011, 2015) could join the list of 13 players to win the UEFA Champions League with two different clubs.
• Mandžukić and Juve’s 2015 final goalscorer, Álvaro Morata, could both join the list of two players to score for different clubs in the European Cup final: only Velibor Vasović (FK Partizan 1966, Ajax 1969) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Real Madrid 2014) have previously managed it.
• Madrid want to become the first side to make a successful UEFA Champions League title defence. They are the fifth reigning champions to return to the final the following season.
• No team have won the European Cup in successive seasons since Milan (1989, 1990).
• Zidane is also attempting to become the first coach to win the UEFA Champions League two years running, while Sergio Ramos is seeking to become the first captain to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy in consecutive seasons.
• Ronaldo (2008, 2014) and Ramos (2014, 2016) could become the first players to score in three UEFA Champions League finals. Ronaldo and Ramos are two of five players to have scored in two finals, along with Raúl González (2000, 2002), Samuel Eto’o (2006, 2009) and Lionel Messi (2009, 2011), a list that Marcelo and Gareth Bale – who both netted in 2014 – and Morata, on target for Juve in 2015, could join this season.
Juventus Final Appearances
1972/73: AFC Ajax 1-0 Juventus
1982/83: Hamburger SV 1-0 Juventus
1984/85: Juventus 1-0 Liverpool FC
1995/96: Juventus 1-1 AFC Ajax (Juventus win 4-2 on pens)
1996/97: Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Juventus
1997/98: Juventus 0-1 Real Madrid CF
2002/03: Juventus 0-0 AC Milan (Milan win 3-2 on pens)
2014/15: Juventus 1-3 FC Barcelona
Real Madrid final Appearances
1955/56: Real Madrid 4-3 Stade de Reims Champagne
1956/57: Real Madrid 2-0 ACF Fiorentina
1957/58: Real Madrid 3-2 AC Milan (aet)
1958/59: Real Madrid 2-0 Stade de Reims Champagne
1959/60: Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt
1961/62: SL Benfica 5-3 Real Madrid
1963/64: Inter Milan 3-1 Real Madrid
1965/66: Real Madrid 2-1 FK Partizan
1980/81: Liverpool FC 1-0 Real Madrid
1997/98: Real Madrid 1-0 Juventus
1999/00: Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia CF
2001/02: Real Madrid 2-1 BayerLeverkusen
2013/14: Real Madrid 4-1 Atlético Madrid (aet)
2015/16: Madrid 1-1 Atlético Madrid (Madrid win 5-3 on pen
Venue: Cardiff Stadium
Time: 7: 45 pm
Referee: Felix Brych