Cardiff: Juventus and Real Madrid clash at the Champions League final in Cardiff after winning their respective semi-finals. It is an encounter that has widely been touted as 'the best attack' meets 'the best defence'. While the La Liga champions have scored in each of their 12 matches, the Serie A champions are the the only unbeaten team this season. So, let's take a look at the 22 men who led Juventus and Real Madrid to the final.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
The evergreen Buffon is still pulling off fantastic saves at the age of 39, making a fantastic stop to deny Barcelona's Andres Iniesta in the quarterfinals and keeping Monaco's attack mainly at bay in the semifinals. The Juventus and Italy captain has won almost every title in the game, including the World Cup in 2006, but the Champions League is one of the few trophies missing from his collection.
Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
The Costa Rican Navas is considered the weak link in Madrid's squad by many fans and local media. He made mistakes during the season that gave critics reason to question him, but proved his worth in the decisive stages of both the Spanish league and the Champions League, making difficult saves at key moments to keep Madrid in contention for both titles.
Andrea Barzagli: An integral part of Juventus' famed 'BBC defense' along with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, Barzagli helped put on a defensive masterclass to shut out Barcelona over the 180 minutes of their Champions League quarterfinal. At 36, Barzagli is the oldest of the three, but the World Cup winner is still regarded as one of the best and most consistent defenders of his generation.
Leonardo Bonucci: With 93 appearances, more than any other player — including captain Gianluigi Buffon, he has been an ever-present for Juventus over the past two seasons. The 30-year-old Italy international is also regarded as one of the best ball-playing defenders in world football, showing his skills with a stunning goal against Genoa recently, going on a mazy run from inside his own half.
Giorgio Chiellini: Physically strong and aggressive, Chiellini is one of the old-school defenders. Softly spoken off the pitch, he has earned a reputation on it as a tough, no-nonsense center back, who goes into tackles with no fear. He has broken his nose four times. A cornerstone of the Juventus back line since joining in 2005, his height makes him a threat at set pieces in the opposition's penalty area.
Dani Alves: Described as past his best when he joined from Barcelona on a free transfer last June, the 34-year-old Alves was often mocked during the season. However, he has gradually proved his critics wrong, culminating in a man-of-the-match performance in the second leg of the semifinal against Monaco, scoring one goal and making the other. He won the Champions League three times with Barcelona.
Alex Sandro: He may not get the headlines, but Sandro's solid performances and playing style have seen him compared to former Brazil star Roberto Carlos. A very attack-minded full-back, he can play anywhere on the left flank and his performances for Juventus have drawn interest from other top European sides. A powerful runner, he can beat opponents one-on-one and helps create chances.
Dani Carvajal: The right back quickly became an undisputed starter after coach Zinedine Zidane took over as coach last year. He had been a reserve to Danilo but won the crowd and the coach's confidence with solid performances. A muscle injury kept him from playing in the final stages of the Spanish league, and in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal. But he is expected to be fully fit for the final in Cardiff.
Sergio Ramos: The team's outspoken captain, Ramos was one of the heroes for Madrid when it won the Champions League title in 2014 and 2016. He scored in both finals, including an injury-time equalizer that led to an extra-time victory against city rival Atletico Madrid in 2014. He has scored 10 goals in all competitions this season, his best career performance.
Raphael Varane: The French defender earned a regular starting spot alongside Ramos after Pepe endured a series of injuries in the second half of the season. Varane was a starter in the 2014 Champions League final, at age 21. He also suffered injuries recently but has been fit in the final stages of the season.
Marcelo: The veteran left back had another remarkable season with Madrid, consistent in defense and decisive in attack with his skillful footwork and precise crosses. He was one of the team's leaders in assists, and his performances were good enough to earn him a place back in Brazil's national team under coach Tite, giving him an extra boost of confidence. The 29-year-old Marcelo scored a goal in extra time in the 2014 final against Atletico.
Sami Khedira: His recovery from a leg injury has given Juventus a timely fitness boost ahead of the final against his former club. Khedira played more than 150 matches for Real Madrid in five seasons in Spain, helping it to the Champions League title in 2014. The Germany World Cup winner joined Juventus on a free transfer in 2015 and has been indispensable this season after previously struggling with injuries.
Miralem Pjanic: Pjanic struggled to fit in during the first half of the campaign, after transferring from Roma in the offseason for €32 million ($36 million), but the Bosnia and Herzegovina midfielder has slowly adapted to life at Juventus. The 27-year-old Pjanic is also one of the best free kick specialists in the world, and has both scored and set up goals for others from dead-ball situations.
Casemiro: With his usual high intensity and perfect timing on challenges, the Brazilian carried the load for Madrid in midfield, allowing the playmakers to focus on attacking and adding an extra layer of protection to the defense. The team struggled whenever Casemiro could not play and he became a crucial piece in Zidane's squad. Casemiro is another player who gained a regular starting spot after the coach took over, leaving Mateo Kovacic on the bench.
Toni Kroos: Another important link between defense and attack, Kroos maintained his excellent form for yet another season. He was solid with his marking and precise as ever with his passes, constantly setting up his teammates. He also scored some important goals in the final stretch of the season, including two in the final three games of the Spanish league.
Luka Modric: The hard-working midfielder endured a series of injuries that kept him from playing as much as in previous seasons, including a left-knee ailment that required arthroscopic surgery in December. Zidane frequently rested Modric in the latter stages of the season and he is expected to arrive for the final fully fit.
Francisco "Isco" Alarcon: Isco was one of Madrid's most important players despite not being one of the regular starters at the beginning of the season. He was the first player to get a call whenever someone got injured and always took advantage of his chances. He thrived while replacing Gareth Bale when the Wales forward got injured late in the season, and is expected to remain in the starting lineup even though Bale will be fit for the final.
Mario Mandzukic: The striker will hope for a repeat of the 2013 final, when he scored the opening goal to set Bayern Munich on its way to a 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund. Having joined from Atletico Madrid in 2015, the 31-year-old Croatia forward has dropped into a deeper role recently at Juventus because of his ability to hold up the ball. But he is also a key target man thanks to his height, physical strength and aerial prowess.
Paulo Dybala: Since joining from Palermo for €32 million (then $36 million) in 2015, Dybala has had a fantastic two years at Juventus - and this season has made an impact on the international stage, earning comparisons with compatriot Lionel Messi. The 23-year-old Dybala signed a new contract in April, tying him to the Bianconeri until 2022, a deal that came days after he netted two goals in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona.
Gonzalo Higuain: Signed from Napoli for an Italian-record €90 million ($100 million), there were question marks over Higuain as he appeared to be overweight at the start of the season. But despite being less of a focal point than he was at Napoli, Higuain has nevertheless netted 24 league goals and five in the Champions League, as well as three in the Italian Cup.
Karim Benzema: The French striker has had a lackluster season, scoring few goals and staying on the bench more often than in the past. But he was decisive when Madrid needed him the most, setting up Isco's important away goal in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid. He showed great skill to clear three defenders in a small space to help send Madrid to the final for the third time in four seasons.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Ronaldo has arrived at the final stretch of the season at his best, after pacing himself and skipping several games to get some rest. He made a slow start in the Champions League, with only two goals in his first eight games. But he finished with eight goals in the last four, including consecutive hat tricks in the quarterfinals against Bayern Munich and in the semifinals against Atletico. The goals saw him become the first player to reach 100 Champions League goals.
With inputs from AP
Published Date: Jun 03, 2017 06:37 pm | Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 06:40 pm