There will be a lot of powerful images that come out of the UEFA Champions League final, but this is probably the one that best summarizes what it’s like to play against Real Madrid.
Juventus did so many things right. They had the best defensive record throughout the Champions League. They thoroughly outplayed Barcelona in the quarterfinals. They put together a gameplan specifically to slow down Cristiano Ronaldo, and it worked in the opening minutes. When Ronaldo scored, they fought back, scoring perhaps the best goal in Champions League final history.
But in the end, Real Madrid had too much talent for Juventus. After Casemiro’s lucky goal, the Bianconeri were startled and couldn’t play assertively. Ronaldo’s second goal wasn’t lucky at all; Luka Modrić beat the Juve defense down the right wing and Ronaldo made a brilliant run that no one was able to track.
Leonardo Bonucci — the best defender in the world this season — stared at a ball that was, from his perspective, on the wrong side of the goal line. Gianluigi Buffon — the best goalkeeper in the world this season, and perhaps the greatest of all time — sat down and stared into space. They felt the crushing weight of a defeat they didn’t see coming. They were supposed to be too good to let in four goals.
Both Bonucci and Buffon have been here before, as have many of their teammates. Juventus has lost more European finals than any club in history, including a 2015 loss to Barcelona.
But this game should have been different. In 2015, Juve had finished second in their group on only 10 points, then struggled en route to a final that few expected them to be competitive in. This year, the Bianconeri didn’t lose a single game in the Champions League. No one could say they were lucky to make the final. They were one of the competition’s two best teams, period.
As good as Bonucci and Buffon had been in the 2014-15 season, they were even better in this campaign. And Ronaldo, despite his great quarterfinal and semifinal performances, has clearly slowed down a bit. This season, he had his lowest games played and goals scored totals in seven years. Ronaldo is still one of the world’s best, but no longer an unstoppable footballing god. Plus, he’s never been particularly impressive in finals.
None of this mattered. Real Madrid scored four times, and Juve’s previously impenetrable defense had to watch Ronaldo and his teammates lift the trophy while confetti fell.
They have to be wondering what it will take to beat Real Madrid. The answer, sadly for Juventus and everyone else, is luck. It’ll take bad officials, bad deflections, bad injuries or some combination of the three for anyone to get the better of this group of Galácticos.
Bonucci and Buffon have to live with the crushing realization that, despite being arguably the best in the world at their positions, they weren’t even close to good enough.
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