I’ve never been more wrong about a final. I thought Juventus would lift the trophy in a very tight match. But they don’t have Messi, Suarez or Neymar, the only players that consistently torment Real Madrid. I was also reminded to never doubt Cristiano Ronaldo. In my final Champions League preview, I wrote about Ronaldo entering the match rested, motivated and in a new central striker role for the Spanish champions. He was coming off back-to-back hat tricks and even said before the match that Real Madrid were the better team. That’s not arrogance, my friends. He knew his team were primed for an epic performance and boy did they deliver. Let’s get to the highlights.
The Black Eyed Peas UEFA’s decision to “Americanize” the Champions League Final was embarrassing. I’m sure the fans in attendance enjoyed the pre-game show, but for us at home it was an awkward flashback that none of us wanted to relive.
Gianluigi Buffon Losing another Champions League Final must’ve crushed Buffon, but it shouldn’t impact his ranking as one of the best goalkeepers of all time. I have to point out however, that despite some unfortunate deflections, the cat-like reflexes he was once known for couldn’t bail him out this time. Fitness, youth at key positions and proven attacking superstars ultimately proved to be the differences between the two teams. Buffon alone stood no chance.
The Midfield Battle It was no contest. Modric and Kroos completely outclassed Pjanic and Khedira. The Real Madrid midfield didn’t dominate for the full 90 minutes, but individually they changed the game at key moments. Kroos’ run from midfield that jumpstarted Real Madrid’s first goal was subtle yet telling. The Real Madrid midfield found an extra gear that Juventus simply couldn’t match. Modric and Casemiro were close to spectacular, while Isco did just enough to keep the Bale OR Isco debate hot throughout the summer. But it was really all about Modric wasn’t it? He played at another level in Cardiff. I’ve watched and rewatched Modric’s interception, the ambitious end-line run and his world-class assist that led to Ronaldo’s second goal. It was a devastating near post run from Cristiano and a shameful dagger to the heart and soul of the Juventus back four. It wasn’t a jaw-dropping golazo like Mandzukic’s, but it did epitomize Real Madrid’s blood-thirsty attitude in the second half.
Zinedine Zidane When he replaced Rafa Benitez in January of 2016, even the most passionate Real Madrid supporters expected him to fail. Regardless of his stature as a footballing legend on the pitch, his coaching résumé was entry-level at best. We say that now, don’t we? In less than two years as Real Madrid’s manager, Zidane is already a touch-line legend after winning a historic second consecutive Champions League title. And he’s sitting on a pile of gold. During the U.S. post-match telecast, Eric Wynalda said that this Real Madrid squad was the best he’d ever seen. Better than the Zidane and the original Ronaldo-led Galácticos. They look like it. From top to bottom and beyond the starting 11, this is the most dangerous Real Madrid team ever assembled. They’re young and they’re getting used to winning big trophies (much like Barcelona from 2006-2015). Zidane’s influence cannot be understated, as his clout inside the Real Madrid locker room becomes one of world football’s greatest mysteries. How does he do it? Are the players simply in awe of him? Is he secretly a mastermind tactician? Or is he a vampire? Real Madrid’s controversial owner Florentino Perez seems to have been glamoured by the Frenchman’s aura, telling the press after the match, “Zidane can stay at Real Madrid for life.” Perez has never been loyal to a manager. We might be witnessing the start of a new era of dominance in European soccer.
James Rodriguez I was completely gutted for Real Madrid’s number 10 yesterday. I’m a big fan of his and I was shocked to see his name on the “won’t get to play” list before the final. If you jump on any James Rodriguez thread on social media, you’ll see his doubters trolling with venom. There’s a perception that he’s not good enough for Real Madrid and that his Golden Boot performance during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was an anomaly. Nonsense. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of James’ biggest supporters, having recently gone on the record to say that he wants the Colombian phenom to stay at Madrid and that he’s “a top player.” But after 36 goals and 39 assists at Real Madrid, James will move on to another super club, another number 10 shirt and quite possibly even higher expectations.Embed from Getty Images
And finally, The GOAT debate reached its peak on Saturday as the world watched Cristiano Ronaldo score his 10th goal since the quarter-finals and his 105th all time in the Champions League. When Lionel Messi isn’t in a final and Ronaldo is, the Portuguese cyborg takes full advantage of the moment. And that’s why the Messi vs Ronaldo debate is so entertaining. By constantly one-upping each other, they’ve provided all the ammunition we need to take shots at two of game’s greatest players ever. You’re either on Team Messi or Team Ronaldo, there’s no in-between. The notion that one is humble and that the other is arrogant should be put to bed. Are they two completely different personalities? Absolutely, but they’re not running for office. This debate is all about their performances, their trophies and their record-breaking numbers. In the end, Messi and Ronaldo will stand on equal ground as modern football’s unequivocal best of all time.