They have tried since the beginning of the 21st century to create the ultimate winning machine at Real Madrid that might replicate the days when they were the prototype for the super-club, and at last it seems that the dream has been realised in this, the game’s most competitive era.
Their third Champions League in four years, the first time the European Cup has been successfully defended in its new format, a 12th overall title that takes them so far ahead of the pack as to be uncatchable for possibly another generation. The questions still remain as to how they have amassed such wealth and influence, and upon what foundations president Florentino Perez has built the modern club, but there is no question that the team itself is formidable.
In the end, the light went out for Juventus who were beaten by two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo as this final went from a tight first half into one of those routine Sunday afternoon La Liga strolls for the champions of Spain. An Italian team that has dug deep into its experience and picked up players discarded by wealthier clubs were ruthlessly exposed by Zinedine Zidane’s players and Juventus conceded more goals in Cardiff than the three they had in 12 previous matches in this competition.
Not since the AC Milan team of 1989 and 1990 have a club been able to come back for a second year and win this trophy and yet, from the moment that Casemiro, the Brazilian midfielder, clouted a shot that was deflected heavily past Gianluigi Buffon for the second, it was never in doubt. There were moments in the first half when Zidane’s side had wobbled and then when finally they hit their groove after the break there was to be no stopping them.
For Ronaldo this was another momentous night which might pave the way for a fifth Ballon d’Or, which would take him equal with Lionel Messi, and there is no disputing the Portuguese goalscorer’s ability to be in the right place at the right time in the big games. He has 600 career goals now at senior level for club and country and yet he is just a constituent part of the perfect football team.
Who could overlook the brilliant Luka Modric, the architect of everything Madrid do in attack and the creator of Ronaldo’s second goal? After an indifferent first half, Isco came into his own and when the job was done he made way for Gareth Bale, back on his home turf and winning his third Champions League but a long way from his very best form after that long injury lay-off.
Only Sergio Ramos let the side down, as only Sergio Ramos can, with some preposterous simulation late on in the game to ensure a second yellow card for the substitute Juan Cuadrado, who took less than 20 minutes to get his red card. It was a travesty that he was sent off but by then Juventus were caught in the jaws of the one of the greatest teams in history, unable to get back into a game they had started in such promising fashion.
The Italian club have now lost seven finals, more than any other in the history of the competition, and having punched above their weight for so long, eliminating teams with much greater resources than them, they finally found themselves way out of their depth. Their goal, scored by Mario Mandzukic in the first half, was a classic in its creation and then its execution, struck over his shoulder, yet after half-time they could not take the pace.
As for Zidane, he is certainly making management look easy. There are many others who have tried to match the spending of this club but Madrid evidently now have the balance right with the axis of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Modric such a dominant force, The French maestro has arrived on the scene at just the right time, as Pep Guardiola once did at Barcelona, but he is certainly making the most of his opportunity.
Against the shut-out kings of Europe, Madrid started the game colder with Juventus pressing them high up the pitch. There were enough indifferent performances from the defending champions in that first half to make you wonder if the Italians might have a chance. Miralem Pjanic chested down a pass on the edge of the area within six minutes and hit a shot that Keylor Navas pushed away.
At the moment Ronaldo scored the opener, he had switched to the right side to get away from Dani Alves, and his chance came when Madrid worked the ball quickly from left to right. Ronaldo passed it on to Dani Carvajal before darting into the area and demanding the return. It was delivered perfectly to be hit right-footed first time, which Ronaldo did, benefiting from a slight touch off Leonardo Bonucci that just took the ball away from Buffon and into the corner.
The equaliser came within seven minutes and was a direct move executed with great technical precision. A ball deep into the corner was crossed by Alex Sandro to Gonzalo Higuain who took the ball on his chest and had the presence of mind to play it away from goal to Mandzukic. He was in the left channel, facing away from goal and with very little on, but he took the ball on his chest which gave him enough time to reposition himself for a right-footed shot over his shoulder.
It was a marvellous piece of skill and a spectacular goal, but you did wonder how Navas was beaten from such range. The shot was within the reach of a top goalkeeper and somehow Navas could not get to it. Yet even after that, Juventus finished the half strongly and there were bookings for Ramos and Carvajal before the break, the Madrid captain as ever walking a very fine line.