Real Madrid make history, thrash Juve 4-1 to retain Champions League title

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Dermot Corrigan
CARDIFF, Wales — Real Madrid wrote another page in the club’s gilded history on Saturday as they became the first team to retain the Champions League in its modern expanded format. This current Blancos side also confirmed their place as one of this competition’s best-ever teams by easing to a 4-1 win over Juventus at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.

After an even first half in which Cristiano Ronaldo’s crisp strike was canceled out by Mario Mandzukic’s breathtaking and acrobatic volley (more on that below), 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 Modric heavily involved while Juve were pushed back. A 20-yard effort from Isco was comfortably saved by 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 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.

2. Ronaldo, Casemiro two sides of the same Zidane coin

It was telling that Ronaldo had barely featured in the game before his goal: the one time he tried to cut in and shoot ended with five Juve players crowding him out. But he knew exactly what to do when he received the ball from Karim Benzema, flicking the ball to the overlapping Carvajal and then holding his position to avoid the Juventus centre-backs before passing the ball into the net, nudging it just out of Buffon’s reach (although it did flick off Leonardo Bonucci on its way in).

The Portugal international wasn’t intimately involved in Real’s general play for the next 44 minutes but he was exactly where he needed to be when Modric fizzed in a cross; again, his finish was deadly efficient. That took Ronaldo to 12 goals in the Champions League this season, one ahead of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, sealing another year as the competition’s top scorer.

In between Ronaldo’s goals was Casemiro’s strike, a less expected strike but one that proved just as valuable for Madrid. The holding midfielder does not score many and got lucky in a way, but his performances from deep midfield have been huge through recent months. He’s become a vital cog for Zidane.

Both goalscorers were emblematic of the former galactico’s masterful management of his multi-talented squad. Zidane’s success in convincing Ronaldo that he needed rest earlier in the year was key to the 32-year-old’s late burst of goals that have driven them to the league/Champions League double. Just as important has been Zidane’s ability to convince lesser-sung players like Casemiro of their worth to the squad.

Mandukic’s screamer will be lost in history

Mandzukic’s goal was a strike to grace any final. The Croatia international showed tremendous skill to take the ball on his chest 14 yards out and, with his back to goal, hook a falling volley over his own head that dropped perfectly into the far top corner. Navas might have done better to reach the ball but the element of surprise caught out the Madrid goalkeeper.

The audacity and execution immediately drew comparisons with Zidane’s own stunner in Madrid’s victory up the road in Glasgow back in 2002. Alex Sandro’s volleyed cross and Higuain’s controlled lay-off were also sensational: in all, it was five touches between three players without the ball hitting the ground before it hit the net. But Juve could not build on it and were completely steamrolled by Madrid in the second half. Key players like Gonzalo Higuain and Pjanic were nowhere — even their much vaunted “BBC” defence was overrun.

In the end Juve, made another type of history in losing a fifth consecutive European Cup final, and the seventh of the nine in which they’ve competed. They will take away Mandzukic’s goal from Cardiff, but little else.

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