KEIR RADNEDGE in CARDIFF —– Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo exploded Real Madrid into Champions League history as the first team to retain the crown as they dismissed Juventus 4-1 in the 2017 final.
In the end it was far easier than Madrid’s 1-0 win over the same Italian victims in 1998. Once more the Old Lady just could not keep up.
Mario Mandzukic had kept Juventus on first half terms with a marvellous acrobatic goal shortly after Ronaldo’s opening strike. But Madrid bossed the second half and Juve were written out of the script after winger Juan Cuadrado was sent off in the closing stages.
Casemiro and substitute Marco Asensio scored the other two Madrid goals as the world, European and Spanish champions seized the day. This was the first time Madrid had won the European and Spanish titles in the same campaign since, remarkably, all the way back in 1958.
Almost by the way, Madrid thus extended their record haul to 12 Champions Cups after having been extended in the first half by the energetic hustling of the Italian champions who even offered a greater goal threat.
But while the two grandees of Italian and Spanish football were level 1-1 at the break the second half was one-sided from the opening minutes when Madrid raised their game to another level, certainly a level too far for Juve.
The Irresistible Force thus proved too much for the Immovable Object, with the superstars of Madrid ending that winning dream of Gigi Buffon, the greatest goalkeeper of modern times.
The final made history in its own right as the first to be played ‘indoors’ after the roof in the Millennium-Principality-National Stadium was closed for security reasons.
Both teams were as expected with Madrid preferring Isco to balance Ronaldo in attack rather than only-just-fit Gareth Bale in his home city.
Juventus were far quicker into their stride. No hint of defensive precautions as they forced three early saves from Keylor Navas through Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic before Buffon had even been brought into the action.
Madrid’s response was to take time out with a series of interpassing moves to draw Juventus’ sting. More than that, it lulled Juventus into a loss of concentration which Madrid punished.
Luka Modric and Toni Kroos combined with speed of thought and movement before Ronaldo exchanged passes with Dani Carvajal and shot low beyond Buffon’s right hand.
This was Ronaldo’s 11th Champions goal of the season and 105th in all. His 20th-minute strike was also Madrid’s 500th in the Champions League era.
However Madrid enjoyed their advantage for only six minutes before Juve levelled with an even better strike from Mandzukic. He received a knockback from an Alex Sandro with his back to goal, controlled the ball on his chest then had no option but to apply an acrobatic finish to curl the ball over Navas and under the crossbar.
This made him the third player to score goals for two different clubs in a Champions final after his strike for Bayern against Borussia Dortmund in 2013.
For the record the other two to share his achievement were Ronaldo and Velibor Vasovic (Partizan and Ajax in 1966 and 1971 respectively).
Halftime arrived with no further goals. Juventus would have been the more satisfied with the busy hustling of their first-half effort. Madrid, for all their goals throughout the season, had created far less danger.
The second half was a different tale entirely. Madrid were late out and not only ran back out for the kick off but kept on running.
They forced the first corner and twice, threateningly, sliced open Juve’s right flank. Modric drew a falling save out of Buffon and Isco suddenly took creative control. Juve could not cope with his sleights of foot as Madrid settled into a controlling rhythm which they would never lose.
Their reward was not long in coming as Brazilian Casemiro’s long-range strike took a deflection off ex-Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira and flew beyond the tragic Buffon.
Three minutes later it was 3-1. Juve carelessly gave away possession, the magnificent Modric scurried down the right and crossed to the near post where Ronaldo stole in unmarked to beat Buffon again. It was his 42nd goal of the season and his 600th career goal in all competitions for clubs and country.
Juventus responded by replacing defender Barzagli with winger Juan Cuadrado. They had to gamble. They had no option.
Madrid, secure all over the pitch, took the opportunity of bringing Bale into the game before Juventus, now snappily grumpy, were reduced to 10 men when Cuadrado was sent off for making the mistake of tangling with Sergio Ramos.
Further punishment was not long in coming. In the last minute of normal Marcelo sneaked in on the left and newly-arrived Marco Asensio stabbed home goal No4.
Hala Madrid! indeed.
Juventus: Buffon – Barzagli (Cuadrado 65), Bonucci, Chiellini – Dani Alves, Pjanic (Marchisio 71), Khedira, Alex Sandro – Mandzukic, Dybala (Lemina 77), Higuain. Coach: Allegri.
Real Madrid: Navas – Dani Carvajal, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo – Modric, Casemiro, Kroos (Morata 88) – Ronaldo, Benzema (Bale 77), Isco (Marco Asensio 81). Coach: Zidane.
Referee: F Brych (Germany). Red card: Cuadrado. Yellow cards: Dybala, Pjanic, Alex Sandro, Cuadrado – Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Kroos.