Ian Rush, John Charles, John Toshack and Gareth Bale – not only a list of Wales’ most decorated attacking players, but also the biggest connections linking this season’s UEFA Champions League finalists to Welsh football, as Juventus and Real Madrid are set for a showdown at The National Stadium of Wales on 3 June.
It is very much a case of the Unstoppable Force versus the Immovable Object, as Los Blancos with 16 goals are the highest scoring team of the knockout stages thus far, with The Bianconeri the meanest defensive team, having conceded just one goal on their route to the final.
Having retained the European Cup for five successive seasons from 1956 to 1960, being awarded the original trophy in the process for their incredible feat, Zinedine Zidane’s side are aiming to become the first side to retain the UEFA Champions League trophy since the inception of the competition’s current format in 1992. This would take their total tally of UEFA Champions League titles to an incredible 12.
Two-times European Champions Juventus will be looking to draw themselves level with Manchester United and fellow Italian giants Internazionale on a total of three titles. Juve have come up short in six of their eight finals in this competition, most recently in 2015 against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona, who Massimiliano Allegri’s side beat comfortably on their way to booking a place in Cardiff.
Monaco were brushed aside by the Bianconeri’s brilliance in the semi-finals with Dani Alves in particular providing a real spark over both legs.
Having arrived at Juventus on a free transfer from Barcelona, Alves proved to be one of the signings of the season at Juventus, assisting his team to knock out the Catalan Kings and Nuno Espírito Santo’s FC Porto after the Italians went through the entire group stage unbeaten.
Three wins and three draw games saw Real Madrid finish second in Group F to Borussia Dortmund, before putting six goals each past Napoli and Bayern Munich in the Last 16 and Quarter-final stages, with a semi-final showdown against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid separating Zidane’s men from yet another UEFA Champions League final appearance. A 4-2 win over two legs, thanks in no small part to a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, saw Real reach their 15th major European final.
Ronaldo continues to defy belief with his form and goal-scoring prowess. Having completed the transition from a wing wizard with a wicked scoring ability, to more of a central role leading Real’s line, the 32-year-old is now the all-time leading UEFA Champions League goal scorer with 103 goals, and holds a host of records for goal-scoring feats in the competition.
Coming up against Gianluigi Buffon, perhaps the best goalkeeper never to win the competition, and Juventus’ incredible defensive line, will arguably be Ronaldo and Real’s biggest test of the tournament to date. The Serie A title holders have shut down some of the best attacking teams in the competition so far, and have some serious firepower up front to cause many problems of their own, including former Madrid star Gonzalo Higuain and Argentine forward Paulo Dybala.
It promises to be an enthralling final at The National Stadium of Wales.