CARDIFF — Real Madrid secured back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles in style as the Spanish giants beat Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff on Saturday.
[ MORE: Cardiff delivers stunning final ]
Real have now extended their own record of being crowned Champions of Europe with 12 titles to their name and they’ve won three UCL crowns in the last four seasons as well as becoming the first team to retain the European Cup since AC Milan 1990.
Make no mistake, this is a dynasty.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored first and last, while Casemiro’s deflected effort put Real Madrid 2-1 up after a moment of sheer magic from Mario Mandzukic leveled the game for Juventus. Late on Marco Asensio made it 4-1 with a tap in.
Zinedine Zidane has now delivered two Champions League trophies in his first two seasons as a manager. Not bad Zizou, not bad.
Here’s what we learned from the final in the Welsh capital.
RONALDO COMES UP WITH THE GOODS, YET AGAIN
For the opening 20 minutes Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of the game falling down and asking for free kicks.
Then, like he always seems to do in the big moments, he pounced. Real launched a rapid counter as Toni Kroos found Karim Benzema who found Ronaldo and he then played in the overlapping Dani Carvajal who returned the favor for Ronaldo to sweep home. Bang. 1-0.
It summed up this Real team who had started slowly and Juventus looked sharper, more focused and more capable in attack, but then their talisman struck and the entire mood of the game changed.
Ronaldo has now won four UEFA Champions League trophies, equaling Lionel Messi. The lines blurring the debate between who is greater, Ronaldo or Messi, have once again been further muddled.
The 32-year-old struggled in the run of play with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini marshaling him, and although he had an off day, like the vast majority of his teammates, Ronaldo came up when it mattered.
Kroos, Luka Modric and Marcelo were Real’s star performers but Ronaldo, as he always seems to do, stole the headlines as he was handed the Man of the Match award by his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson after the game.
Ronaldo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but to come up with big goals in big games to win big trophies time and time again, the man is a machine. In the past 12 months he has won two UCL trophies, a La Liga crown, EURO 2016 with Portugal and individual honors with the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best Player award.
With four Champions League trophies to god name and now 42 goals in the 2016-17 season, Ronaldo has proved he is once again the man for the big occasion.
A FINAL LIVES UP TO THE HYPE
I would’ve been fine if this game never had to end.
The first half was frenetic but composed. Tense yet fluid. Full of quality but also toughness. It had everything you’d want from a final.
Following Ronaldo’s fine finish after a flowing team move, Mandzukic came up with a wonder-goal to level things up.
In the second half tackles flew in as Juve tried to slow down the pace and disrupt Real’s flow. That only fired the Spaniards up and they never looked back after Casemiro’s shot deflected off Sami Khedira and in to make it 2-1.
Ronaldo flicked home at the near post three minutes later to make it 3-1 to all but end the encounter with 25 minutes to go. Ronaldo and substitute Gareth Bale both went close for Real and Alex Sandro flicked a header just wide for Juve with Gonzalo Higuain having a good chance from close range. Juan Cuadrado was sent off as Juve finished the game with 10-men as Sergio Ramos was up to his old tricks.
The game had everything and the quality of play on the pitch, despite Real finishing things off with over 20 minutes to go, was a joy to watch.
MANDZUKIC HAS CONTENDER FOR BEST-EVER UCL FINAL GOAL
This goal is a genuine contender for the best goal ever scored in a European Cup final. Even if Keylor Navas could’ve probably done a little better…
Zinedine Zidane’s volley for Real against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow in 2001 is one of the best, as is Hernan Crespo’s dink for AC Milan against Liverpool in 2005 in Istanbul, but the audacity of Mandzukic’s strike at such a pivotal time stunned the Millennium Stadium crowd.
The fact that the ball didn’t touch the ground from Dani Alves cross-field ball to Alex Sandro’s ball in to Higuain who chested it down teed up Mandzukic made his miraculous finish even better.
Aesthetically it had everything. Adventurous play from full backs, a center forward playing in another attacker superbly and then Manduzkic with a ridiculous chest and finish to make it 1-1.
The only way this goal could be below Zidane and Co. is due to Navas’ positioning. The Real goalkeeper was caught out by the lack of power on Mandzukic’s shot and it looped over his head. Would a taller goalkeeper have got fingertips on it? Perhaps.
Juventus lost a seventh UCL final out of nine, but at least they have this gem to remember from another disappointing display as Gianluigi Buffon’s wait for a European title goes on.