'No-one can criticise me,' says Ronaldo after European glory
Real Madrid superstar scores twice as Spanish giants beat Juventus to win the Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale enjoyed a night of European glory on Saturday as the pair helped Real Madrid win their third Champions League title in four years. In defeating Juventus 4-1 at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, Real became the first club to win back to back Champions League crowns and Ronaldo became the first player to score in three finals.
Having found the net when Real beat Bayern Munich in 2014, the Portuguese also scored in last year's win against Atletico Madrid, and his two goals on Saturday were instrumental in seeing off the challenge of Juventus, who have now lost a record seven finals.
In all Ronaldo has scored 105 Champions League goals, 37 of which have come in the quarters, semis and finals, proof of his appetite for the big occasion. "This is one of the best moments of my career but it seems I am able to say that every year," said Ronaldo. "People won't be able to criticise me because the numbers don't lie."
Ronaldo scored the first goal of the 2017 final on 20 minutes and although it was soon cancelled out by Mario Mandzukic's stunning overhead kick Real dominated the second period. Further goals from Casemiro, Ronaldo and Marco Asensio sealed a 12th European Cup win for Real, more than any other club. Coach Zinedine Zidane was even able to delight the Cardiff locals by bringing on hometown boy Gareth Bale in the second half, and the Welshman revelled in the occasion as he collected his third Champions League winners medal.
"Nights like this is why you're a footballer and why I joined Real Madrid," said Bale, the first Welshman to win three European crowns. "It's three in four years and not many people can say that. It justifies why I came here, it's great to be part of that and I want it to continue. It was a very special occasion for me personally and it was an incredible feeling to lift that trophy here."
The 27-year-old Bale has been sidelined in recent weeks with a calf injury but he replaced Karim Benzema 13 minutes from time with the score at 3-1, and the Welshman was privy to a dramatic conclusion with Juventus losing Juan Cuadrado to a red card after a clash with Sergio Ramos, and then Asensio scoring Real's fourth goal on 90 minutes.
The victory caps an incredible week for Real and their coach Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman - the first Gallic coach to win two Champions League titles - guided the club to their first domestic league crown for five years last weekend, and the normally phlegmatic Zidane was struggling to contain his emotion in the wake of this latest triumph.
"I feel like dancing," he said. "This club is really in my heart and we are going to enjoy this. Today is a truly historic day for Real Madrid, for all Madrid fans."
Real Madrid or Juventus to make Champions League history
Real Madrid hope to become the first club to retain the Champions League trophy in Cardiff on Saturday evening, while for their opponents, Juventus, it's the opportunity to erase the painful memories of their defeat to Barcelona in the 2015 final.
Juventus beat Real Madrid in the semi-final two years ago but then lost 3-1 to Barca, a defeat that Massimiliano Allegri says provided him and his club with a valuable lesson.
"Have we learned anything from losing in the 2015 final? You learn something every day, nevermind in a Champions League final," said the Juventus coach. "Only a few people get to lift this trophy. It's not something that happens every year. In the last three years, we've played in one final and this will be our second. But this time we have to lay our hands on the trophy."
The 49-year-old Allegri has transformed Juventus into a powerhouse once more, just three years after his arrival in Turin was greeted with a barrage of eggs by fans enraged that the club had appointed the former AC Milan as their coach.
The eggs have been replaced by adulation as Allegri has taken Juventus to the brink of football immortality: win in Cardiff and they will become only the eighth European club to win the domestic league, cup and European Cup in a season.
Victory over Real Madrid in Wales will also ease the pain of those six lost European Cup finals - a record.
"Madrid have a lot of strengths," said Allegri, when asked to assess his opponents. "They're an extraordinary side with great technique and pace. They're used to playing in these kinds of games, so it will be a great final."
The Juventus coach believes that what happened against Barcelona two years ago will have no bearing this time around. "Compared with the 2015 final in Berlin, our squad has changed in almost every position," said Allegri. "Only four or five players are still here. Our confidence has increased, our awareness of our own ability has gone up and the atmosphere has improved."
Allegri has built Juventus's success (this season was their fifth consecutive league title) on tactical versatility and adaptability, as he showed this season by changing his formation on several occasions.
The loss of Paul Pogba to Manchester United 12 months ago, while unpopular, had no negative impact on the squad and the strategic confrontation with Real coach Zinedine Zidane will be fascinating.
Last weekend the 44-year-old Frenchman guided Real to the Spanish league crown, and according to the Spanish press Zidane has been motivating his players this week by showing them clips of the Spartan king Leonidas from the film 300.
Like Allegri, Zidane has a full squad from which to select his starting XI and the main selection issue facing the Real coach is whether to for the in-form Isco or Gareth Bale, who's fit again after six weeks on the sidelines with injury. "They're both very important players and everyone can give their opinion but it won't influence me," said Zidane.
Juventus and Ronaldo limber up for Champions League final
Champions League finalists Juventus and Real Madrid both issued statements of intent ahead of their clash in Cardiff next month.
In Italy, Juve secured the first trophy of what could be a historic treble as they beat Lazio in the final of the Coppa d'Italia.
Over in Spain, Real Madrid moved within a point of the La Liga title with a resounding win over Celta Vigo, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice to write his name into European football legend.
Both games showcased the teams' strengths and would not have gone unnoticed in each other's camps.
Juventus scored twice in the opening 25 minutes, courtesy of defenders Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci, and then shut the game down.
It may have been the least significant of the three trophies the Bianconeri are after, but it is an essential part of the jigsaw and two more wins can deliver the rest.
"There are more important targets this season," says Paolo Baldini of The Guardian. "The front pages of Thursday morning’s sporting newspapers were explicit in defining this as only the first, necessary, step towards the treble Juventus have dreamed of.
"Even the players themselves, as they danced with their trophy in the changing room, sang about going to Cardiff. And yet, in one sense, a treble has already been completed. The Bianconeri are the first team since the Coppa Italia was founded in 1922 to win it three times in a row."
If Juventus are to be unpicked in the Champions League final, it is likely that Ronaldo will be involved.
He rose to the occasion yet again as Real Madrid mauled Celta Vigo 4-1.
The result means Los Galacticos are only one point from their first La Liga title for five years, and on course for their first league and European Cup double since 1958.
Ronaldo's brace means he has scored 13 goals in his past eight games - despite firing blanks in two of them - and sets a new record for Europe's top flight leagues, notes The Times.
He now has 368 league goals, more than has ever been scored by anyone in Europe's top five divisions.
His first goal of the night beat the record held by Jimmy Greaves for 46 years.
"The Portuguese looks highly likely to become the first man to score 400 goals in European top-flight competition," adds the Times. "He also has 103 goals in the Champions League."