The 2016 / 2017 UEFA Champions League final kicked off 10 O’clock [East African Standard Time] only 90 minutes later for Real Madrid to lift the trophy after a 4-1 win against Italy’s Juventus.
It was history being made before the eyes of the thousands of spectators at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium in Wales.
Real Madrid wrote another page in the club’s history on Saturday as they became the first team to retain the Champions League in its modern expanded format.
After an even first half in which Cristiano Ronaldo’s crisp strike was canceled out by Mario Mandzukic’s breathtaking and acrobatic volley, Zinedine Zidane’s men took control after the break. Casemiro’s deflected effort put Madrid ahead and Ronaldo then quickly ended the contest with his second of the night before substitute Marco Asensio capped the night late on. Juve put on an impressive showing in the first 45 minutes but they were blown away when Real upped the tempo after the break and skipper Sergio Ramos lifted what was their third Champions League trophy of the past four years.
Once the preposterous pregame show had been cleared away, Juventus began the game very positively. They almost went ahead on six minutes as Miralem Pjanic’s 20-yard effort brought an excellent flying save from Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Their fans had more to cheer when Paulo Dybala nutmegged Marcelo with a back-heel pass in his own half.
Madrid didn’t sit back and admire it, though, and on 20 minutes, they had gone ahead. It was a typically razor sharp break from Zidane’s side with Karim Benzema feeding Ronaldo, who played a one-two with Dani Carvajal before sweeping a 15-yard shot inside the far post. Juve might have been rocked but they surged again, producing a superb team move at the end of which Mandzukic scored one of the great Champions League final goals. Both teams then seemed to need a breather as we got to half-time after a frenetic but high quality first 45.
Madrid began the second half strong, with Isco and Luka Modric heavily involved while Juve were pushed back. A 20-yard effort from Isco was comfortably saved by Gianluigi Buffon, while Ronaldo just could not reach Marcelo’s deliciously curling cross. The pressure finally told when Casemiro’s speculative shot found its way into the bottom corner, with the ball flicking off Sami Khedira’s heels and spinning beyond Buffon’s reach.
Juve’s resistance was really broken just three minutes later as Madrid went for the jugular. Modric drove to the byline and hooked the ball back with Ronaldo again perfectly placed to spin a first-time finish past Buffon, who was powerless on his line.
Substitute Juan Cuadrado’s late dismissal, picking up a second yellow card for a late foul on Ramos (who arguably embellished the contact) was the final ounce of fight from a beaten Juve side. Fellow replacement Asensio sparked joyous celebrations when he finished from close range late on.
Madrid’s 2014 and 2016 final victories were dramatic, agonising affairs won right at the death. Yet their performance on Saturday was complete and Zidane’s side genuinely deserve to go down as one of the best club sides ever.