Juventus Coach Massimiliano Allegri had to be pleased. His team drove the bus for much of the half, and with the exception of Ronaldo’s goal — a great buildup finished by a great player — his defense seemed organized, composed, steady.
Zinedine Zidane had more to think about. Two defenders picked up yellows, and his team seemed to be ballwatching on the Mandzukic goal. What he really needed, though, is a bit more up front. That, as always, depended on better from his midfield — Modric and Kroos. But his is a team that can score, and Juventus cannot rely on wondergoals to make up for mistakes.
Rory Smith: Juventus’ approach was clear in the first half: Massimiliano Allegri, its coach, identified a weakness on the right side of Real Madrid’s defense, and used Mario Mandzukic — when he wasn’t scoring acrobatic goals — to occupy Dani Carvajal and free up space for the overlapping full-back, Alex Sandro. It worked: Juventus has, marginally, been the more threatening of the teams. Real Madrid, though, is more than happy to play on the break, and if it can find a little more space and time for Isco, in particular, has proved it can trouble Juventus’ fabled defense.
Juventus Gets Physical After Goal
The goals certainly gave the half the edge it was looking for. Despite scoring first, Real Madrid briefly looked flustered in the minutes after Mandzukic’s equalizer. Sergio Ramos, a step behind, picked up a yellow for a foul that stopped a counter. Benzema got caught throwing an elbow as he challenged for a header. Modric dropped Dybala at full speed and then Dani Carvajal joined Ramos in the referee’s book. That made it two Madrid defenders on yellows with a long way to go.
Juventus cannot afford to trade blow for blow with Madrid, though. Composure and control is what they want, not a shootout.
27’: Juventus’ Mandzukic Answers
Ronaldo was the one shaking his head seven minutes later, when Mario Mandzukic tied the game with a breathtaking finish: controlled off his chest, and then almost bicycled over Navas in the Madrid goal.
The goal came the last touch of a gorgeous interchange between three Juventus players in the penalty area: six touches without the ball hitting the grass until it was in the back of the net.
Silenced by Ronaldo’s goal, the Italians started to sing again.
Rory Smith: There have not been many better goals in Champions League finals in recent years than Mandzukic’s goal to draw Juventus level — a back-to-goal overhead kick, teed up by Higuain. A couple stand out —Zinedine Zidane, for Real against Leverkusen in 2002; Hernan Crespo’s second for AC Milan against Liverpool in 2005 — but Mandzukic’s belongs in the conversation.
20’: Ronaldo Strikes First
Cristiano Ronaldo drifted and wandered through the first 20 minutes, and finally found the space he needed to make it 1-0.
Juventus would have regarded the first 19 minutes or so as something of a success: the Italian champion had found its feet quicker, and seemed unfazed by Real Madrid’s status as holders. It had created the best three chances, too, two falling to Gonzalo Higuain and one to Miralem Pjanic. Needless to say, after 19 minutes and 35 seconds, Real Madrid scored, Ronaldo’s shot deflecting off Leonardo Bonucci, silencing the Italian fans and making Ronaldo the first player to score in three Champions League finals.
Juventus Tests Keylor Navas
After a late start due to a Black Eyed Peas concert, both sides took the pitch in earnest. Juventus was on the front foot in the first five minutes, as Higuain tried a soft header and a harder shot, both of them saved easily by Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
The Italians are also sending a couple of early messages in midfield. Sami Khedira whacked Luca Modric to stop an early counter, and Leonardo Bonucci just stripped Marcelo — leaving him in the grass too. Pjanic had the first real dangerous chance, a right-footed rocket that Navas had to dive to push away.
Lineups Are Set, With Bale on Bench
The lineups are out, and the only news is on the Madrid side, where Isco starts for Gareth Bale, who is available off the bench.
Not to be starting in Cardiff has to be a crushing disappointment for Bale, a Welshman, but playing with a leg injury would have been quite a risk. Atletico Madrid famously gambled that way with Diego Costa in the 2014 final, and he was off after less than 10 minutes.
UEFA will not be impressed that the start of the final — scheduled for 7:45 p.m. local time — was delayed by the game’s opening ceremony. The Black Eyed Peas performed a condensed medley of their songs, backed by hundreds of dancers and illuminated by pyrotechnics, on a stage that was still being taken apart and wheeled away when the teams emerged from the tunnel. Several, notably Cristiano Ronaldo, looked distinctly unhappy at having to wait for kick off as the field was cleared.
Top Story Lines for the Final
The Spanish champions boast a fearsome attack, led by arguably the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, that has scored at least once in 64 consecutive games. Juventus will counter with the competition’s best defense, a veteran group — skilled in tactics but also some of soccer’s darker arts — that surrendered only a single goal in six games in the knockout rounds.
The players everyone will be watching are Ronaldo and Juve’s beloved goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon. But Madrid’s front line also features the French striker Karim Benzema, and it has a half-dozen other starters backing them who would trouble any opponent.
“I’ve not had dreams about Ronaldo and Benzema — probably because otherwise I’d have to dream about lots of other Madrid players,” Buffon said.
■ Real Madrid, the newly crowned Spanish champion, is the unquestioned king of the Champions League, with 11 titles over all. It is trying to become the first repeat winner of the competition since Milan in 1989-90.
■ Juventus has won the past six Italian championships, and it reached the Champions League final only two years ago. But it lost that day, as it did the time before that. And the time before that. And the time before that. Sensing a theme? Juventus does, and it has begun to sting.
■ What’s at stake? Bragging rights and millions of dollars, obviously. But also the Champions League trophy, which at 29 inches tall and 16 1/2 pounds is the most coveted piece of silverware in European soccer. It is known, comically, as Ol’ Big Ears because, well, just look at it.
■ Don’t get star struck watching Ronaldo. A key matchup will play out far away from the center of the field: it will pit Real Madrid’s left back, Marcelo, against Juventus right back Dani Alves. Both like to bomb forward to get involved in the attack, but since they will occupy the same side of the field, that could leave both of them vulnerable if they get caught out of position when play suddenly goes the other way.
■ Real Madrid is a slight betting favorite But Juventus is the overwhelming sentimental choice, if only because many people want Buffon, its veteran (though seemingly ageless) goalkeeper, to win the title at least once before he retires.
Security High at National Stadium of Wales
There were tens of thousands of fans inside the National Stadium of Wales — as UEFA insists on calling it — long before Real Madrid became the first team to arrive, at 18:25 local time, for the 2017 Champions League final.
Every fan had been through four security checks, patrolled by armed police as well as stewards, in the aftermath of the terror attack in Manchester last week. They arrived to find white and purple flags placed on alternate seats in the end of the stadium reserved for Real Madrid; Juventus’ display looks like it may be more organic.
Outside, the whole of the city seemed to have been turned into a Champions League theme park. Outside Cardiff Castle, right in the center, and on the waterfront at Cardiff Bay, huge numbers of fans started to gather as early as 8:30 a.m. Cardiff is not a large city, and its compactness has given the place a genuine carnival feel.
In the Hilton Hotel, meanwhile, where UEFA’s executives are staying, a steady stream of soccer’s great and good have been taking coffee, meeting, shaking hands and slapping backs. Both Sunil Gulati and Victor Montagliani are present, as well as the likes of Leonardo Jardim, the Monaco coach, superagent Jorge Mendes, and the Paris Saint-Germain president, Nasser al-Khelaifi. There are even more dignitaries present at the game, including Sir Alex Ferguson and
, the manager of Brazil.
Working the Game
Today’s referee is Felix Brych, a German lawyer. He works in the Bundesliga but has been an international referee for a decade, working club matches in the Champions League and the Europa League as well as international tournaments including the 2014 World Cup and last summer’s European Championships. It’s not his first big game.
He has not seen Real Madrid this season, but was in the center for Juventus’ 2-0 victory over Porto in the quarterfinals in February.
And remember: UEFA continues to go with extra assistant referees instead of the now more commonly accepted video review. Remember that if there’s a disputed goal: there’ll be no second look for the officials.
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