A Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid won their second Champions League title in a row, beating Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff.
By James Nalton at the Millennium Stadium.
Rather than being a fairytale end to the season for 39-year-old Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, it was another triumph in the incredible career of clinical Portuguese footballing powerhouse Ronaldo.
Buffon and his team-mate Dani Alves spoke before the game about the moments which make history and how they aren’t necessarily about individual achievement, but the Real Madrid No 7 has made a career out of picking up individual honours on the back of making whichever team he plays for an unequivocal success.
He walked away with the man of the match award thanks to his brace, and this European Cup win — the fourth of his career — will see him up there with the favourites for the Ballon D’Or come the end of the year.
Prior to the game Cardiff was awash with black and white, as Juventus and Real Madrid fans merged together in the crowded, heavily policed streets.
The Italians were the rowdiest, warming up their vocal chords with gusto and also preparing themselves for some of the more physical challenges that such passionate supporters face.
Juventus fans in full voice in Cardiff city centre. pic.twitter.com/JgMzxI0CAt
— World Football Index (@WorldFootballi) June 3, 2017
Real, meanwhile, enjoyed more neutral support than they might normally.
Among the Spanish contingent in the Welsh capital, a different accent altogether could be heard coming from some of those wearing the white of Madrid.
On the face of it, thick Welsh tones emerging from these Real Madrid jerseys seemed strange, but that was until they revealed the back of their shirts to read:
From Blancos to Gwyn, this final was set up for Gareth Bale to win his third Champions League title, and his second in as many years, though he started the game on the bench.
A series of injuries had kept him out of the side for much of the season, resulting in the resurgence of Isco who had become one of Zinedine Zidane’s favourites in the Welshman’s absence.
But come the end of the game, the local boy would be in the photograph.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men came out firing on all cylinders, and Gonzalo Higuain’s header from Mario Mandzukic’s cross was the first of a few early attempts from the Bianconeri.
Their best effort came from Miralem Pjanic who forced an excellent save from Keylor Navas as his shot from distance was seen late by the Costa Rican who still managed to save impressively at full stretch.
Madrid eased their way into the game though, and Casemiro’s little chat to Pjanic after fouling him summed up their authority.
Moments later, Zidane’s side opened the scoring. Ronaldo had been quiet up until this point, but a one-two with Dani Carvajal had the Juventus back line a step behind the play.
Ronaldo met the ball with a sweeping right-footed effort which bent away from Buffon into the bottom corner.
The favourites were ahead but the flow of the game returned to it’s original state with a series of counter-attacks from both sides, and this time Juve were able to make it count.
A long ball from the back by Leonardo Bonucci found Alex Sandro who crossed first time to Higuain. The Argentinian chested it before lifting it in the direction of Mandzukic who, with his back to goal, was able to chest it himself and execute an instinctive overhead kick.
The ball hand’t touched the ground since it left Bonucci’s boot, before it looped over a helpless, flailing Navas into the far top corner.
The ultimate heads and volleys goal.
When they wanted to be, the Juventus defence were as tightly packed as Cardiff city centre, but they fanned out well when they had the ball to let the attack work its way forward.
It was a sloppy start to the second half, and some testing midfield challenges had a few players down on the turf.
And a moment of sloppy play brought the second Real goal.
Alex Sandro’s clearance from a speculative Toni Kroos effort eventually found its way to Casemiro, who steamed onto the ball and belted it into the bottom corner from around 35 yards out.
The Brazilian midfielder made a good connection, but it wouldn’t have beaten Buffon were it not for a deflection off Sami Khedira on its way through.
The next goal would be vital, and it came instantly.
Luka Modric found himself playing the winger, and as he reached the byline down the right he sent in a ball almost as perfect as the run made by the man who got on the end of it.
Ronaldo ghosted between Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci to get the optimal touch on the cross to divert it past Buffon.
It was time for Bale’s entrance.
The 27-year-old replaced Karim Benzema to give the Juventus defence even more problems.
The Italians had switched to a back four after conceding the second, with Juan Cuadrado replacing Andrea Barzagli, but Zidane would counter this by playing Isco as a false nine with Ronaldo and Bale either side of him.
Marco Asensio replaced Isco shortly after with orders to play the central role, but Ronaldo was having none of that and moved to the middle himself in search of a hat-trick.
An indefensible bit of playacting from Sergio Ramos succeeded in getting Cuadrado sent off.
The Colombian barely tapped the Real captain who took it upon himself to collapse to the ground holding his foot. Cuadrado was shown a second yellow, and the final was over.
It was definitely over when Asensio’s goal — almost a mirror image of Ronaldo’s first, with Marcelo providing the square ball — made it four.