Uefa Champions League final:
Venue: The National Stadium of Wales, Cardiff, Wales
Although Real Madrid have won the Champions League more often than any other club (11) and are the Spanish League record holders (33 times), they have only once managed to win both in the same year.
And that was 60 years ago, when the great Alfredo Di Stéfano inspired Los Blancos to a 2-0 victory against Fiorentina. Since then, the club from the Spanish capital have gone on to win the European title nine times and the La Liga 27 times, but not in the same year.
This is something they want to change in Cardiff on Saturday as they take on Italian champions Juventus in their third Champions League final in four years.
Appointing him manager
Their performance in the Spanish championship has been less impressive, and the 2-0 victory in Malaga a fortnight ago secured “only their second title in nine years” – prompting coach Zinedine Zidane to say that it was the best moment of his footballing career.
And that is surprising.
After all, Zidane has won the World Cup with France; is a European champion with club and country and has won the Ballon d’Or.
But after the final day victory that sealed this championship, he said: “I’d like to get up here [on the table in the press room] and dance. I’m not going to, but on the inside I’m very, very happy".
Presumably he is not the only one who was happy as the Real management took a bold step in appointing him manager in January last year. Although he had been incredibly successful as a player, he had all of two years experience as a coach – and that in charge of the Real second team.
But within six months of taking over, he won the Champions League before adding the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup to the already overflowing trophy room in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
Zidane’s methods have not always found favour among the players as he, at times, did not rest three or four players and instead dropped seven or eight, resulting in 20 players having played 1 000 minutes or more by the end of the season.
The club scored in every game it played, with 19 players registering on the score-sheets. Not surprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo top-scored, but even he was rested for a number of matches.
“I have played fewer games than in previous seasons, and that showed at the end – we have managed it more intelligently. These are the factors games are decided on,” Ronaldo said.
The 11 games less than last season that he played this year allowed him to be on fire at just the right time, and his goal tally proves it. He scored 14 of his 40 goals so far this season in the last 40 days, when, unlike in the previous season, he could begin the last matches reasonably rested.
All of that, of course, does not auger well for the club Zidane left to join Real for the then record transfer fee of €77.5 million (R1.1 billion at today’s exchange rate) – Juventus.
While with the La Vecchia Signora (the Old Lady), Zidane won the Serie A twice and played in two losing Champions League Cup finals, with the second in 1998 being a 1-0 defeat against Real.
Juventus lost the final two years ago to Real’s big rivals Barcelona 3-1, but veteran defender Andrea Barzagli is confident that they can turn things around this time.
“We have more confidence in ourselves this year. We will play the game and then we will see [what happens] as it is a unique match and anything can happen.
“It’s something that we also talk about in the dressing room,” he said.
It will be goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s 108th Champions League match. Having lost two finals already, the 39-year-old will be hoping that the third time is the charm.
He certainly has some high-profile supporters in his corner, with former Barcelona midfielder Xavi saying that he hoped for a Juventus victory; even if he sees it as a 50-50 game.
“I would like Juventus to win so that Gianluigi Buffon wins his first Champions League. He deserves it so much,” Xavi said.
French striker Antoine Griezmann, whose Atletico Madrid side were knocked out by Real at the semifinal stage, is also rooting for Buffon.
“Juventas will win the Champions League and, afterwards, we should award the Ballon d’Or to Buffon,” he said.
Will those good wishes will be enough, though?