It's match day in Cardiff where Juventus and Real Madrid will face off in the Champions League final at the Millenium Stadium.
Madrid have featured in three finals in the past four seasons, winning in 2014 and 2016. Now, Madrid are looking to become the first team to retain a Champions League title and win a record-extending 12th European Cup.
Juventus are chasing their third title, having not won European football's top prize since 1996. The Italian side lost to Barcelona on their last visit to the final in 2015.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala will be the key players for their sides. Reuters
Ten of thousands of fans are descending on the Welsh capital for the match, with limited hotel capacity to accommodate them.
With a population of just 350,000, Cardiff is one of the smallest cities to host a Champions League final.
Completing a season when age has slowly caught up with him, Cristiano Ronaldo will be trying to break new ground on familiar territory.
When the Real Madrid forward takes to the pitch to face Juventus on Saturday, it will be the fifth Champions League final in nine years for the three-time winner.
One thing is already certain to change on Saturday: The continent's showpiece will be contested under a closed roof, with Cardiff authorities guarding against the possibility of a drone attack.
It won't be a new experience for Ronaldo, though. He was a regular visitor to the Welsh national stadium during his Manchester United career while it staged English football's finals, although the only time he played under cover he lost. The 2005 FA Cup final was also the only one of Ronaldo's four visits with United that he didn't score and emerge victorious.
It was a rare setback in a career that continues to deliver, even as the 32-year-old forward has had to increasingly accept being on the sidelines to stay fresh for the big occasions. It's hard to argue because Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane's squad rotation system has netted Madrid the Spanish league title and yet another Champions League final.
"Obviously what I want the most is to play more freely up front," Ronaldo said, "and that is the opportunity Zinedine Zidane has been giving me as a No 9. I play freely. I play on the wing, down the middle. I play whenever I think I should."
Ronaldo, however, is unlikely to find much freedom against Juventus, a team with one of the best defenses in soccer. In 12 European games this season, Juventus have only conceded three goals and are looking to become the first undefeated champion since Manchester United in 2008.
At the heart of that Juventus defense is a guy looking to become the oldest Champions League winner: 39-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. A European title is the one of the few major prizes to elude the Italian in an illustrious career that has seen him lose two Champions League finals.
"I'm a young boy even though I'm 39 years old," Buffon said through a translator in Cardiff. "Many people think about my very long career ... I got more than I gave, but that would be the perfect finale and people like fairytales."
Madrid will be facing a sturdy defense supported by a formidable attacking unit led by Paulo Dybala. The Argentine, who has drawn inevitable comparisons with Lionel Messi, has scored four goals in 10 European appearances this season.
Dybala has thrived since Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri changed the team's formation to accommodate their attacking talents. Dybala joined Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic in a trio sitting just behind Gonzalo Higuain, while Miralem Pjanic has been behind them alongside Sami Khedira.
"The 4-2-3-1 formation came to me the moment I realised our team wouldn't progress any further if we kept the old tactics and formation," Allegri said. "I assessed our players' strengths and I tried to put them on the pitch in their favorite positions and I also tried to encourage our attacking skills."
A sixth consecutive Serie A title has already been won. Now it's about preventing a repeat of the 2015 final loss to Barcelona with a much-changed squad.
With inputs from AP
Published Date: Jun 04, 2017 02:45 am
| Updated Date: Jun 04, 2017 02:58 am