Juve out to prove they’re Real deal

But can Buf­fon’s Ital­ian de­fence halt the at­tack­ing charge of Ron­aldo’s Madrid?

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - REUTERS

REAL Madrid’s ir­re­sistible at­tack slams into Ju­ven­tus’s seem­ingly im­mov­able de­fence to­mor­row when the free-scor­ing Span­ish 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 de­li­cious sub-plots, one of which could see Welsh wiz­ard Gareth Bale make a tri­umphant re­turn to the val­leys of his birth.

Oth­ers in­clude Juve keeper 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, whose lust for goals has taken Los Blan­cos 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 Milan side were the last to be crowned Euro­pean cham­pi­ons for a sec­ond year run­ning in 1990, but since the com­pe­ti­tion mor­phed into the Cham­pi­ons League that feat has proved be­yond even the most ex­pen­sively as­sem­bled teams.

Real, crowned La Liga cham­pi­ons for the first time since 2012 last week, are the favourites af­ter bang­ing in 32 goals in 12 games in the com­pe­ti­tion this sea­son.

Ron­aldo has scored 10 of them, and two more in the fi­nal would see him move above Barcelona’s Lionel Messi to top this sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League scor­ing chart.

The ir­re­press­ible Por­tuguese is the only player to have scored more than 100 goals in the com­pe­ti­tion.

But he still ap­pears to want more.

“Too much hu­mil­ity isn’t good. We have to prove our char­ac­ter and who is the best,” Ron­aldo said this week as he eyed a third Cham­pi­ons League tri­umph with Real to add to the one he se­cured with Manch­ester United in 2008.

“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.”

He is not wrong about the goals: No Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal has ended goal­less since Milan beat Juve on penal­ties in 2003.

Yet while Ron­aldo’s in­fec­tious con­fi­dence will sweep through Zi­dane’s side, Serie A ti­tle win­ners Ju­ven­tus are un­beaten in Europe this sea­son and are go­ing to their sec­ond fi­nal in three years hav­ing con­ceded only three goals.

Only Ar­se­nal, in 2005-06, reached the fi­nal in more miserly fash­ion, con­ced­ing two goals be­fore fall­ing at the fi­nal hur­dle against Barcelona.

No won­der Buf­fon, aged 39, 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.

A 2006 World Cup win­ner with Italy, for whom he re­mains first-choice keeper, Juve’s grand old man 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 in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“The fact that I’m still to win it pushes me on.”

While Buf­fon bleeds black and white stripes, team­mates Sami Khedira and Gon­zalo Higuain once played for Real.

Khedira con­quered Europe with Real in 2014 but never re­ally cut it at the Bern­abeu, while Higuain, de­spite scor­ing more than 100 goals for the club, is still look­ing for a Cham­pi­ons League medal.

They will be spurred on by fac­ing their old club while for­mer Barca full­back Dani Alves, will not want for mo­ti­va­tion as they seek to end Juve’s 21-year wait for the ti­tle.

Sadly for Bale, his role in this fairy­tale fi­nal looks like be­ing of the cameo va­ri­ety as he has yet to fully re­cover from the an­kle lig­a­ment in­jury he in­curred in Novem­ber.

Livewire Isco is likely to get the nod in Zi­dane’s start­ing line-up, but if the scriptwrit­ers get their way, the lo­cal boy will come off the bench to spark a fi­esta the likes of which Cardiff has never seen be­fore.

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