Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal

Madrid and Zi­dane are re­warded for con­ti­nu­ity

World Soccer - - Contents -

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

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