Champions League Final Preview: Back to the ’90s

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Real Madrid’s Predrag Mijatovic scores the winner against Juventus during the 1998 UEFA Champions League Final in Amsterdam. 

Vladimir Jugovic and Alen Boksic of Juventus. AC Milan legend Dejan Savicevic. And Real Madrid’s Predrag Mijatovic. These are just some of the players from the former Yugoslavia that are synonymous with UEFA Champions League finals. I’m a child of the 90s, so while I loved Brazil’s grunge-era jogo bonito at international competitions, it was the “European Brazilians” that I remember dominating the game’s biggest club tournament. The 2017 final in Cardiff will feature two European powers, whose major continental trophies have been kissed victoriously by players from a region with a historically elite footballing pedigree. And luckily for us, both Real Madrid and Juventus will field this Region’s new school in Croatia’s Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Mario Mandzukic and Marko Pjaca; and of course Miralem Pjanic from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While their predecessors were compared to Brazilian footballers because of their innate technical skill and street-soccer inspired creativity, the players we’ll see in the upcoming June 3rd final represent everything that’s great about modern European football.

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Luka Modric is the type of midfielder I dreamed of becoming. He’s a stocky, hard-working player that’s never afraid to make a hard tackle. Modric combines uncanny field awareness and eyes like motion detectors with deft touch and an amazing right foot. His tendency to use the outside of his boot in central midfield epitomizes his exceptional skillset. Modric’s Croatia and Real Madrid teammate Kovacic is more of a north-south midfielder. The 23-year old can get himself into trouble in midfield, but uses quick touches and speed to get himself out of it. If Casemiro picks up an early yellow, look for Zidane to call on the young Croatian to settle in the middle and transition at pace.

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Mario Mandzukic will play the role of the villain in Cardiff. Some pundits and fans call him a dirty player, but I love his unpredictability and cold-blooded stares. He’ll do anything for his team to win, which includes defending in Allegri’s constantly evolving counter-attacking formation. Super Mario is a garbage-goal machine and will be a serious threat to Real Madrid’s defense anytime Dani Alves whips in a cross from the right. Then there’s Marko Pjaca. I honestly didn’t know much about him when I began to write this post, but that’s why we have YouTube. The former Dinamo Zagreb man is a lanky winger that likes to run at defenders. I was very impressed with his dribbling and speed in the opponent’s final third. He loves the step-over and does it well, and can use the sole of his foot in tight spaces—the sign of a great player. Allegri prefers Juan Cuadrado on the flank, but Pjaca could be an interesting late-game option.

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Now, you already know how I feel about Miralem Pjanic. Roma legend Francesco Totti baptized him as The Little Prince, but he plays like the king of the Juventus midfield. Pjanic might seem like an unsung member of the Serie A champions, but remember they paid over €30 million for him. He’s a dead-ball specialist that seems to casually spray the ball around the pitch. He makes the game look easy and is a critical component to Allegri’s tactical setup.

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So, we’re just three weekends away from the biggest final in club football. Like Vladimir Jugovic in 1996 and Predrag Mijatovic in 1998, the final at the Millennium Stadium in Wales could feature a game-winning goal or a Man of the Match performance from one of today’s modern-day Brazilians of Europe—a nod to one of the best footballing decades of all time.











6 thoughts on “Champions League Final Preview: Back to the ’90s

  1. Hola Felipe

    Dont you think James could be a key player in the midfield doing a game produce tirangle with Kross and Modric ?

    Saludos primo.


    • Hey Nestor! Welcome to the blog. I absolutely agree that a triangle central midfield featuring James, Modric and Kroos would be world-class. But Zidane prefers to solidify the middle with Casemiro. Oh well…


  2. Matic, no. Kante made him look like he did last time Chelsea won, but he wasn’t much better. I don’t like him as a player, but Busquets is still in the top 5. For being slower than a usps service line, it’s impressive how he covers so much ground by reading the game well. Vidal is probably the most talented on the list but not a true cdm by nature. That may be because Bayern don’t need to defend. Not sure who would replace him on the list. Maybe Matuidi. It’s probably too soon but I’ll through Eric Dier in the mix. Excited that see what Spurs do in the league of leagues next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree, Dusty. Busquets is pure quality. Matuidi as well. The position is evolving so true CDMs are rare. The role has definitely changed. But these hybrid players still allow they’re more creative teammates to flourish.


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