Champions League final: Real Madrid's bid for history faces stern test from treble-chasing Juventus

Cardiff: Zinedine Zidane's former club Juventus stand between the Real Madrid coach and football history in Saturday's star-studded Champions League final in Cardiff.

A head coach for only 17 months, the former France playmaker can become the first manager to win back-to-back European Cups since A.C. Milan's Arrigo Sacchi in 1989 and 1990 and the first in the Champions League era.

Zidane had a hand in Madrid's ninth, 10th and 11th European triumphs -- as a player, assistant coach and head coach -- and the quest for the 'Duodecima' (12th) brings him up against an old flame.

"If you'd said I was going to live all this when I was a child, I wouldn't have believed you," Zidane told Friday's pre-game press conference at the Principality Stadium.

The Real Madrid team take part in a training session at The Principality Stadium in Cardiff, on June 2, 2017, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League final football match between Juventus and Real Madrid. / AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO

Real Madrid train ahead of the Champions League final in Cardiff. AFP

"But I'm living it and I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying what's happening to all of us. I'm just the coach.

"It's really beautiful to be able to play the final again, like we did in Milan (in 2016). We're ready to play."

Victorious against city rivals Atletico Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Real are chasing a third success in four seasons.

It would allow them to proclaim European dominance with a conviction they last possessed during Alfredo Di Stefano's five consecutive wins of the late 1950s.

Zidane, 44, has already led his team to glory in La Liga, ending a five-year league title drought, as well as the Club World Cup and European Super Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, can claim a fourth European crown, which would only enhance his chances of matching fierce rival Lionel Messi's haul of five Ballon d'Or successes.

The 32-year-old Portuguese has exploded reports of his demise with stunning hat-tricks against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals and Atletico in the last four.

With 10 goals to his name, he needs one more to equal Messi's tally in this season's competition and become a Champions League top scorer for the fifth season running.

The final could prove a glorious homecoming for Madrid's Cardiff native Gareth Bale, although the Wales star is expected to start on the bench due to a calf injury, with the in-form Isco due to continue in his place.

Classic contest 

While Zidane, Ronaldo and Bale hope their good fortune in the competition continues, Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is praying for a turning of the tide.

A beaten finalist in 2003 and 2015, the 39-year-old Italy great dreams of adding the ultimate club honour to the World Cup winner's medal he collected in 2006.

"Real Madrid are used to winning finals," Buffon said.

"We've lost a number of finals. So maybe it's a good match in that sense. We're going to try and overturn our record in history."

Juve must shed their status of perennial Champions League bridesmaids, having finished runners-up on a record six occasions and lost their last four finals.

Italian champions for the sixth year running and Coppa Italia winners, the Turin giants are also aiming to become only the eighth club to complete the European Treble.

They were pursuing the same milestone in 2015, when they lost 3-1 to Barcelona in Berlin, but coach Massimiliano Allegri says his streetwise side are now ready to take the final step.

"In 2015 we got to the final and deserved it, but we perhaps were not strongly motivated," he told reporters on Friday.

"We didn't feel confident enough because we'd had struggles in the Champions League for a number of years.

"We didn't get to the final by chance, but we didn't expect to win. This year it's completely different. We've been growing gradually. Juventus have improved a lot."

While Madrid possess the competition's sharpest attack, Juve boast its meanest defence, having successively shut down the sparkling attacks of Barcelona and Monaco en route to Cardiff.

Beneath a closed roof at the Principality Stadium -- a first for a Champions League final -- a classic contest beckons.


Published Date: Jun 03, 2017 12:41 pm | Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 12:41 pm


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