Event: UEFA Champions League final
Date: Saturday, 3rd June 2017
Kick Off: 7:45pm (Nigerian time)
Venue: Cardiff Stadium, Wales.
Finally, the D-day is here, one every football lover has been waiting for, one fixture that is sure to keep at least more than half of the world’s population busy tonight. Indeed, a tantalizing one in prospect. It’s Juventus v Real Madrid!!! Doesn’t come any bigger.
The attraction tonight is: Zinedine Zidane’s side can become the first to win back-to-back Champions League titles while Juventus can complete a historic Serie A, Coppa Italia and European treble. Consequently, an exciting, explosive encounter beckons.
Since the re-incarnation of Europe’s top competition in 1993, no team has ever managed to win the trophy in consecutive years, with AC Milan the last team to do so in 1989 and 1990 when it was the ‘European Cup’.
The Los Blancos won their 11th European trophy – their fifth Champions League – when they beat city rivals Atletico Madrid last season and victory against Juventus in Cardiff will see them make history by defending their title.
Juventus last won the competition in 2006 under Marcello Lippi and have been beaten on their past four appearances in the final including a 2015 loss to Barcelona. The Serie A champions could also become the ninth team to achieve the treble of league, domestic cup and European titles and only the second Italian club in history to do so after Inter Milan in the 2009/10 season.
The big, good news for Real Madrid is the potential return of Gareth Bale, who has been sidelined since picking up another calf injury against Barcelona on April 23. The Wales international could start in his home city of Cardiff and it is likely to be a toss up between himself and Isco for a starting spot.It’s all left for Zidane to decide.
Dani Carvajal is also expected to be available for selection with Zidane having a full squad to take to the Principality Stadium.
For Juventus, Mario Mandzukic is likely to be fit alongside Sami Khedira, who will battle with Miralem Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio for the two starting spots in midfield.
Left-winger Marko Pjaca and centre-back Daniele Rugani are expected to remain sidelined with long-term already being suffered. Aside both men, Allegri has a fully fit squad to choose from.
KEY STATISTICS TO BEAR IN MIND AS THE COUNTDOWN TICKS AWAY
-This is the 19th encounter between Juventus and Real Madrid – all in the European Cup/Champions League, making this the second-most played fixture in the history of Europe’s premier club competition after Bayern Munich v Real Madrid (24).
-The head-to-head record between Juventus and Real Madrid is perfectly balanced, with eight wins each and two draws. However, their only previous meeting in the Champions League final saw Real Madrid win 1-0 in 1998 thanks to a Pedrag Mijatovic goal.
-Real Madrid could be the first side to lift back-to-back Champions League titles.
-Real Madrid have reached the European Cup/Champions League final for the 15th time, four more than any other club (AC Milan, 11). They’ve won 11 of the previous 14, again more than any other team in history. In fact, they have won each of their last five finals in the competition, last losing in 1981 against Liverpool.
Real Madrid have reached the final for the third time in four seasons.
-Juventus have won only two of their eight European Cup/Champions League finals. They’ve lost their last four – in 1997, 1998, 2003 and 2015.
-Juventus are the only unbeaten team in this season’s Champions League (W9 D3). They are the first team since Atlético Madrid in 2013/14 to reach the final without losing a single game. In fact, no team has lifted the Champions League trophy without suffering a single defeat since Man Utd did it in 2007/08.
-Juventus have conceded only three goals in 12 Champions League games this season. Only one team had reached the final with fewer goals conceded under the current format (since 2003/04) – Arsenal in 2005/06 (2).
-Real Madrid have scored in every single one of their 12 games in the Champions League this season (32 goals, most prolific attack) but have also kept only one clean sheet; it was against Atlético Madrid in the semi-final first leg (3-0). Actually, Real Madrid have conceded the opening goal in five of their six knockout games this season whilst Juventus have never trailed at any point in this season’s knockout phase.
-Gianluigi Buffon will become the third oldest player to feature in a European Cup/Champions League final (39 years and 4 months) after Dino Zoff (41 years and 2 months in the 1983 final) and Edwin van der Sar (40 years and 6 months in the 2011 final).
-Dani Alves has scored more goals (10) and delivered more assists (25) than any other full-back in the Champions League since his debut in 2007/08. If he plays, it will be his 100th game in the competition and would become only the second Brazilian player to reach that milestone after Roberto Carlos.
-Cristiano Ronaldo has reached the 10-goal mark for the sixth consecutive Champions League campaign. No other player has done it on more than two consecutive seasons (Messi, Van Nistelrooy). He’s also played more than any other outfield player in this season’s competition (1110 minutes).
-This will be Ronaldo’s fifth European Cup/Champions League final. Only three players have featured in more: Paolo Maldini, Paco Gento (8), Alfredo Di Stéfano (7).
-Three of the last five Champions League finals have gone to extra-time, including two which have been decided on penalties.
-Wales are hosting their first ever European Cup/Champions League final. They are the 16th country to do so.
Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid): “We’re very happy to be in the final. We know how difficult it is to get there and we’ve worked very well during the year. We deserve to be in the final and the team is going in to it in very good physical shape and we’re confident.”
Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus): “Juventus haven’t lost six finals, we’ve been involved in eight! Making the final is incredible.
“There’s only one Champions League like there’s only one Superbowl and what matters is being in the right place at the right time. I’m delighted to be in the final and I feel fortunate to be leading a team out in Cardiff on Saturday.”
FORM GUIDE (all competitions, most recent first)
Real Madrid: WWWLWW
VERDICT: **Sighs** Juventus, to me, long before now, appear to be the favourites. I saw signs of a championship-winning team in the first leg of the quarter final versus Barcelona at the Juventus Stadium and I was convinced in the second leg a week later at the Camp Nou.
Now, I say this because Juve has got a much more solid shape while they’ve got the weapons upfront to trouble Real Madrid’s leaky backline. Both teams like to play on the counter-attack but Real Madrid are not as disciplined or clever defensively as their adversaries.
Juve are the best in the business and they will be able to cope with anything that Real Madrid throw at them.
I see Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini being able to take ‘good’ care of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, using their intelligence and strength to block off dangerous runs. In fact, the trio are more than capable of that task.
Gonzalo Higuain is getting involved in play more than he used to and is scoring more goals than ever before. He looks like the complete striker right now.
I have been really impressed with them and it’s the strength all round, in all departments, which convinces me they are better equipped to win this match.
They may not be as flamboyant but they’ll be able to cope with Madrid from set-pieces and they are vastly experienced also. You would think you could get at Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli but they’re uncompromising and so well organised. Coming from a defender, you can see they just know how to defend.
Juve, WILL, at the end of the day, emerge 2016/2017 UEFA Champions League winners, I dare say.