Champions League Final
Madrid and Zidane are rewarded for continuity
Welcome to the era of Generation Z, with Real Madrid’s latest, recordextending 12th European crown, secured with the Champions League’s first backto-back double, altering the perspective on how to assess this version of an unparalleled success story.
The failure of any other club to win the Champions prize more than one season at a time had created a fractured image of what was possible in the highpressured technical, tactical and physical modern game.
Ajax and Bayern Munich stamped their status on the international game with hat-tricks in the 1970s. Before them, Benfica and Internazionale had their doubles as, later, did Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest and the “Dutch masterpiece” created at Milan by Arrigo Sacchi.
Madrid had set the example, of course, by winning the first five Champions Cups. No one has come near that since and probably never will.
The nearest approach to domination until now in the Champions League era has been the excelling consistency of Barcelona, winners four times in nine years between 2006 and 2015, and Madrid themselves, champions on three occasions in five seasons between 1998 and 2002.
Here lie apparent keys to success. At Barcelona, Pep Guardiola grew up as a footballer under Johan Cruyff and carried on the European Cup-winning baton as coach. Similarly at Madrid, Miguel Munoz captained the first winners in 1956 and 1957, coached the Hampden glories of 1960 and then rebuilt the “Ye-Ye” team which added cup number six in 1966.
That was Madrid’s only European titlewinning line-up featuring just Spaniards. Hungarian Ferenc Puskas and Uruguayan Pepe Santamaria were still at the club but, at 39 and 37, they sat up in the stand, content by then to be wheeled out only for prestige friendlies.
And now? Zinedine Zidane volleyed Madrid’s wonderful second goal against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 and, having succeeded in winning the cup where he had failed with Juventus in 1997, has duly re-emerged as Madrid’s winning coach, rewarding continuation once more.
Madrid’s generational winners start with the 1956-60 era (Di Stefano, Gento, etc), the fleeting “Ye-Ye” team (Amancio, Pirri, etc). Next came the Mijatovic-FigoZidane succession crossing the centuries. Fond memories remain of the 1980s, of Emilio Butragueno, Carlos Santillana, Hugo Sanchez and Jorge Valdano – but they “only” won two UEFA Cups, not the “real thing”.
Approaching this latest Final was a perception of a fragile team: they had won in 2014 and 2016 by the narrowest of margins, extra-time (snatched with that last-minute Sergio Ramos equaliser) and then penalties. Each time they had
beaten neighbours Atletico, with the parties more Spanish than European.
Hence Juventus coach Max Allegri’s comment: “For the last two weeks I have heard only that we are favourites. I don’t understand that.” Not so difficult. Football is a team game and Juve were perceived to possess the greater team ethic and discipline, if lacking in the big-ego individual talents.
Doubtless he knew this, but it suited him to plead ignorance, to keep his players focused. It worked, up to a point – the point where Cristiano Ronaldo arrowed Madrid ahead against the run of early play. Mario Mandzukic equalised with a marvellous back-to-goal volley, but when German referee Felix Brych blew his half-time whistle, Allegri knew his plan had failed.
He explained later: “At the start we were set up to try to score and then maybe we would have to defend in the second part of the game. If we had finished the first half in the lead it would have been a different match but Real Madrid have players of great ability and when they increased the pressure we were not able to resist.”
Zidane had said on the eve of the Final that he expected Juventus to attack but plainly his players did not believe him. Juve set Madrid on the back foot for most of the first half with their energetic hustling and intelligent movement. Mandzukic’s goal was the least they deserved in trying to secure the one prize to so far have eluded keeper Gigi Buffon.
The former Bayern striker was only the third player to score goals for two different clubs in Champions finals (after Velibor Vasovic and Ronaldo).
At half-time Zidane ordered his team to go on the front foot and play higher up the pitch. In fact, Madrid were late back for the second half. They ran down the tunnel onto the pitch and just kept going, in effect running the legs off Juventus.
Twice in the opening minutes of the half they sliced open Juventus down the left. Isco began dancing in and out of midfield and Juventus did not know how to deal with him.
Casemiro was fortunate with the deflection which carried his drive beyond Buffon for the second goal but Madrid had earned such fortune by raising their game. Juve’s defence fell apart. They gave away possession, allowing Modric to skip to the byline and cross for Ronaldo to score number three.
For a second, decisive time under the Millennium roof, Ronaldo had caught Giorgio Chiellini leadenfooted. Thus he lifted his Champions League score for the season to 12, some 106 in all, and his club and country career tally beyond 600. Madrid had now scored as many goals against Juve as the Italians had conceded in the entire campaign.
Worse was to come for Juventus as Juan Cuadrado committed the naive mistake of allowing himself to be set up for a red card by Ramos before Marco Asensio scored a fourth goal. By that point, Zidane had allowed even barely fit Gareth Bale to join the homecity show.
In the end it was far easier than Madrid’s 1-0 win over the same Italian victims in 1998. Once more Juve just could not keep up and Zidane’s team became the first Madrid outfit to win the European and Spanish titles in the same campaign since, remarkably, all the way back to 1958.
Almost by the way, they thus extended their record haul to 12 Champions Cups and “Generation Z” could now claim to be European, world and Spanish champions. It does not get any better than that.
Equaliser...Mario Mandzukic scores with a superb backto-goal volley
Start...Cristiano Ronaldo after putting Madrid in front
Leader...Madrid’s Sergio Ramos
Deflection...Casemiro’s drive clips Sami Khedira and puts Madrid back in front
Three up...Ronaldo scores his second