On The Independent website, Miguel Delaney wrote a preview of the Champions League Final in Cardiff.
Delaney quoted Ronaldo saying, “Too much humility is a bad thing. We’re better than them.”
That comment stayed in my mind all day.
Juventus 1 Real Madrid 4
Ronaldo 20 Mandzukic 27 Casemiro 61 Ronaldo 64 Asensio 90
My life is measured out in European Cup Finals.
For Europe-oriented boys who used to read World Soccer at school, this was the climactic contest where the best played the best and wrote themselves into history.
But 2017 was slightly different for me.
This year’s final was the first time I’d ever watched the biggest game of the season on TV while I was abroad.
We were on holiday in Florence with my brother Neil and his wife Martha, a professor who sometimes teaches at European universities.
Neil googled Watch Champions League Final in Florence and found Finnegan’s, an Irish pub round the corner where we could see the game.
That morning, while Martha was working, Neil, Jan and I walked down to the Mercato Centrale and as we were going upstairs from the fresh produce to the food court on the first floor, I saw some fresh-looking graffiti on a n empty vegetable tray on the landing: VAMOS REAL MADRID.
A reminder that the match of the season was tonight and an Italian club had reached the final.
Neil and I went down early to the pub to bag some seats and I got some drinks and talked to the barman, who was from San Francisco.
Then I saw Ronnie Whelan interviewed pitch- side and then noticed Liam Brady in the studio with Johnny Giles and Didi Hamann and realised: this is Irish TV!
Unfortunately, the commentary was turned down because of music in the other bar.
Neil asked, “Who do you think will win?”
“Juventus one nil”, I replied. That was what I hoped would happen.
Then Jan and Martha joined us and I saw Juventus coach Max Allegri on the touchline during the warm-up and thought: If Allegri came to Arsenal, the club would still be a sleeping giant. Because Kroenke would still be the owner.
When the game kicked off the tempo was good and after one rapid burst of slick passing from Juventus, Martha gasped: “I’ve never seen the ball switched around so fast!”
Real keeper Keylor Navas had to make a sensational save from a Panjic shot that was rocketing low inside his post.
Then came a sweeping left-to-right move by Real and Ronaldo played a one-two with Carvajal and swept his shot low past Buffon for 0-1.
Seven minutes later Juve hit back with a stupendous equaliser.
Bonucci hit a killer diagonal to the overlapping left back Alex Sandro and he was inside the box when he volleyed the ball across the penalty area to Higuain, who chested the ball and volleyed it to Mandzukic, who also chested the ball and then hooked a sensational overhead kick that flew just under the crossbar for 1-1.
Wow! Was that the greatest goal we’ve ever seen in a Champions League Final?
Mario Mandzukic’s overhead kick was technically perfect: his right boot caught the ball beautifully and the shot had a lot of power.
In that moment half the punters in the pub jumped to their feet, shouting and laughing.
I said, “For the next 61 minutes, Ronaldo’s gonna be trying overhead kicks.”
1-1 and game on!
After that gobsmacking wondergoal, the Juventus machine started to roll and the rambunctious Ramos got a yellow card.
If I had previewed the match on ANR I might have suggested that the game could be a tale of two Brazilian full backs, Marcelo v Dani Alves.
But after 41 minutes I asked, “Where is Dani Alves? Is he playing?”
Jan put a finger to her mouth in a “Shhh!”gesture.
The half-time score was 1-1 and so far it has been a very close battle, a hard-fought heavyweight contest, very physical. Exactly what I thought this final would be.
Jan asked, “What do you think?”
“I reckon Juventus might grind it out.”
Second half, Bonucci was injured by Varane’s high boot and had to go off and I thought it was intentional.
Madrid now pressed ferociously and when Casemiro blasted a shot from outside the box the ball took a vicious deflection and flashed past Buffon for 1-2
Three minutes later Modric wriggled to the bye-line and his blind cutback to the near post allowed Ronaldo to stroke home for 1-3 to end the contest in 64 minutes.
Would Real Madrid now cruise through the last half-hour against this broken Juventus team?
Not on your life. The disgusting Sergio Ramos dived and pretended he was hurt to get sub Cuadrado a second yellow card..
Isco went off and the gifted Asensio came on and the kid made it four at the death when he knocked in Marcelo’s low cross after a typical dribble along the line.
Juventus 1 Real Madrid 4
On Ronaldo, Neil said, “He’s always in the right place.”
I said, “He’s not a show-boating dribbler now, he’s mutated into a predator. The whole team plays for him because he insists on that.”
Benzema has a Teddy Sheringham role these days, holding the ball up, moving wide, pulling defenders around, while Ronaldo loiters a lot, walks around. He is a spurt player now, a space-finder, a chance-converter, a gladiator who can call on everything he’s learned and apply that in the moments that decide a game.
In 2017, less is more from Ronaldo.
VERDICT: Juventus were very good for 45 minutes. But in the second half they were too old, so they were battered and blown away, so overwhelmed that they didn’t have a shot.
They didn’t have anybody of Modric’s class. Also : Higuain and Mandzukic wasn’t a good pairing. Both centre forwards have too many miles on the clock and neither has pace.
We left on the final whistle and walked back to apartment and I said “Juventus drew the first half 1-1. Then they lost the second half 3-0. Ronaldo was right to say, ‘We are better than them.’ ”
Who can beat Real Madrid in the Champions League this season?
Right now Zidane, once a galactico himself, is the ideal mentor for this team of stars.
He’s been at the top of world football as a winner and captain for club & country. From where he is, you never look down or backwards, just forward to the history you can create.
Zidane, now 45, could become one of the 21st century’s legendary managers.
PS. I’m going to read this now and maybe you should do the same.