• Champions League final – Juventus 1 (Mandžukić 27’), Real Madrid 4 (Ronaldo 20’, 64’, Casemiro 61’, Asensio 90’)
GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE
After an evenly-played and thrilling opening 45 minutes that saw both teams go at one another with attacking panache, Real Madrid dominated the second half and exploded for three goals to thrash Juventus and repeat as European champions
THE MAIN STORY
“Every victory is extraordinary, because winning is never inevitable.”
Manager Massimiliano Allegri surely didn’t know how prophetic his words would truly be when he first uttered them last month following Juventus’ 3-0 win over Crotone, a result that secured the Bianconeri’s sixth consecutive Serie A title.
The toughest thing to do in sports is win at the very highest level. It’s a sobering and harsh reality that Juventus knows all too well, especially after Saturday’s humbling defeat at the hands of Real Madrid. With the wounds of a loss against Barcelona in the final from two years ago still fresh, Juventus attempted to live up to its pre-game billing as the best team on the planet and finally win a third European championship.
Juve entered this contest in Cardiff as the slight favourite, and played Real close for 45 minutes, before Los Blancos put on a dominant performance and ran roughshod over the Italian champions in the second half. Not for the first time for the Turin-based outfit, winning the Champions League final proved to be a bridge too far. It’s now five consecutive losses in the final for Juventus since they last hoisted the trophy in 1996.
Some of the greatest stars ever to play the game have worn the famous black and white jersey, among them: Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Baggio, Omar Sivori, John Charles, Dino Zoff, Fabio Cannavaro. Yet, for all of their history and all of their prestige, Juventus have won only two European championships, losing in the final a record seven times.
Contrast that with Real Madrid, who have won the European Cup a record 12 times, and are the first side to repeat as winners during the Champions League era. Real Madrid is the Champions League, and the Champions League is Real Madrid. The Spanish outfit defines the European club soccer’s biggest tournament, and it has come to define them.
That’s the difference. The Champions League hasn’t defined Juventus – it has defied them. And it continues to do so.
64’ GOAL! Juventus 1-3 Real Madrid: Casemiro’s long-distance shot took a very heavy deflection off Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira to spin past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. At 2-1 down, Juventus was suddenly reeling but they were still in it. Cristiano Ronaldo’s second goal of the game just three minutes later put the game beyond the Italians’ reach. Luka Modrić won back possession and exchanged passes with Dani Carvajal before delivering a low cross to Ronaldo who skipped in front of Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci and beat Buffon at the near post. There was no way back for the Serie A outfit at that point.
How good was Mandžukić’s goal?
Juventus’ Mario Mandžukić scored a spectacular equalizer in the 27th minute, controlling a short pass from Gonzalo Higuain with his chest, turning and then hitting a spectacular volley that majestically looped over the reach of Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and nestled inside the far post.
It was a spectacular finish by the Croatian that completely overshadowed the brilliant build-up play from Juventus – 10 passes from six different players during a 32-second sequence preceded the goal.
Social media immediately blew up, with debates over which was the greatest goal in the history of the Champions League: Mandžukić’s strike or Zinedine Zidane’s memorable volley for Real Madrid against Bayer Levekusen in the 2002 final?
Both were incredible goals, scored by fantastic footballers, and it seems wrong to debate which one was better. Can’t we just enjoy both of them for what they were – moments of pure genius.
Kudos to Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane for not bowing to sentiment, and starting Isco instead of Gareth Bale. It would have been a bold move by Zidane to give the nod to the Welshman in his hometown of Cardiff, and it would have made for a great story. But Isco deserved to be in the starting 11 – he was one of Real’s best players during the semifinal series against Atletico Madrid, and he was a key figure in Los Blancos’ run to winning the La Liga title, brilliantly deputizing for the injured Bale since last November. On this night, Isco proved to be an effective foil for Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, and kept Juventus honest with his deft touch and stylish possession.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid: This was a team effort from Real Madrid, with a number of outstanding individual performances by key players – Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric foremost among them. Still, it’s hard to look past Cristiano Ronaldo, who continues to come up huge in the big games on the sport’s biggest stages. His second goal was the killer blow, a dagger straight to the heart of Juventus. Was it a classic, all-dominating showing by Ronaldo? No. But be took his chances very well, and was ruthless for Real in front of goal.