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  • madrid shines as they win the ucl cup back to back
  • It ended, as it so often does, with that
    familiar smile. Cristiano Ronaldo – gelled
    hair, dazzling teeth, magic in his boots –
    will never forget the night he scored the
    600th goal of an almost implausible
    career.
    It was the moment everyone knew the
    Champions League trophy was on its way
    back to the Bernabéu and, once again,
    that the four-times Ballon d’Or winner
    had left his imprint on another final.
    Ronaldo had scored twice on another
    exultant night when he also leapfrogged
    Lionel Messi to announce himself as the
    competition’s leading scorer for the fifth
    season running. He will enjoy that, too,
    but the real prize here was to be part of
    a side that have now lifted European
    football’s most coveted silverware three
    times in four seasons. Cardiff 2017 will fit
    neatly with Milan 2016 and Lisbon 2014
    whereas, for Juventus, this was a familiar
    story of regret and hurt.
    This was their
    seventh defeat out
    of nine finals,
    including five in a
    row, and the second
    half was a
    chastening
    experience for the
    Serie A champions, culminating in them
    sieving more goals in one match than in
    the rest of the competition put together.
    It was a full-on collapse and, by the end,
    the players in black and white stripes
    looked in need of smelling salts.
    It was certainly rare to see a Juventus
    team lose their way so badly bearing in
    mind it was 1-1 at the break and, if
    anything, Massimiliano Allegri’s players
    had looked the more rounded side. Yet
    the second half was a dreadful ordeal for
    the team from Turin and all those
    supporters who had held up thousands
    of black and white cards before kick-off
    to spell: “The Time is Now.” Yes, Juve
    were unfortunate, in the extreme, with
    the deflected goal from Casemiro that
    gave Madrid a 2-1 lead just after the
    hour. From that point onwards, however,
    it was staggering to see a team renowned
    for defensive structure crumple this way.
    Juve’s indignities in that period also
    featured a sending-off for Juan Cuadrado,
    one of their substitutes, and a late goal
    from Marco Asensio when the thousands
    of Madridistas were already going
    through their victory songs. Gareth Bale,
    deemed too short of fitness to start, had
    joined the party by that stage and no one
    from Zinedine Zidane’s team should
    really care that the game’s outstanding
    moment was conjured up by one of the
    losing players.
    Mario Mandzukic’s goal was the paradox
    of the night. Indeed, has there ever been
    a better goal in a European final? Zidane
    himself is on the all-time list for his
    spearing volley against Bayer Leverkusen
    at Hampden Park in 2002. Yet it is a
    legitimate debate and Mandzukic’s 27th-
    minute effort here might even edge it
    given that it involved the ball going
    between four different players without
    touching the floor.
    Leonardo Bonucci was first with a long,
    diagonal pass out to Alex Sandro on the
    left and, after that, it was a blur of
    exhilarating speed, colour and
    movement. Sandro’s cross to pick out
    Gonzalo Higuaín was a beauty: a
    cushioned, left-footed volley on the run.
    Higuaín controlled the ball on his chest
    and flicked it towards Mandzukic. And
    then, finally, it was the big man’s turn,
    teeing himself up and then twisting his
    body to launch himself at the ball.
    Volley, chest-volley, chest-volley: five
    touches in total, mid-air; left, right, left
    and right again. It was like something
    from a computer game and, at the end of
    it, Mandzukic’s improvisational shot was
    dipping and swerving into the top corner
    of Keylor Navas’s goal.
    Ultimately, though, the more prosaic
    goals carried the greater significance in
    this contest. Madrid have managed only
    one clean sheet on their way to winning
    this competition. Yet there is another
    statistic about Zidane’s team and the
    player, more than anyone, who carries
    the team’s dreams. They arrived in
    Cardiff with the best goals record of any
    side in the competition – 32 from 12 ties –
    and Ronaldo, being Ronaldo, rarely lets a
    big game pass him by without making
    some kind of contribution.
    To begin with, he
    had found it difficult
    to get too much of
    the ball in and
    around the Juve
    penalty area. But he
    also had periods in
    the other finals
    when he drifted to the edges. Then this
    one reached its 20th minute and he came
    alive, exchanging passes with the
    overlapping Dani Carvajal before pulling
    back his right boot to take aim. His shot
    was low, directed towards the bottom
    corner, and skimmed off Bonucci to
    elude Gianluigi Buffon.
    If we were to be kind about the losing
    side, Madrid’s first two goals both came
    from deflections and, in Casemiro’s case,
    the trajectory of his shot completely
    changed once the ball had struck Sami
    Khedira. The truth, however, is that Juve,
    having conceded only three goals en
    route to this final, chose a bad night to
    lose their defensive organisation and
    never recovered from that moment.
    Three minutes later, Luka Modric
    scampered down the right, clipped a
    cross to the near post and Ronaldo’s
    clipped finish gave the remainder of the
    match an air of inevitability. “The people
    who always criticise Cristiano are going
    to have put their guitar back in its case,”
    he said afterwards, modest as ever.
    There was still time for Sergio Ramos, as
    devious as a bag of weasels, to help
    engineer Cuadrado’s second yellow card
    with a bout of pretend agony but
    Madrid’s second-half performance had a
    lot more good than bad. Marcelo set up
    Asensio to sweep in their fourth goal in
    the last minute and Zidane joined Brian
    Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola
    and José Mourinho among others on the
    list of managers who have won the
    European Cup twice.

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