Champions League Final: Real Madrid Confirms Its Spot as World's Best – New York Times


After the referee Felix Brych blew his whistle to confirm Real Madrid’s victory, Ronaldo — the first player to score in three Champions League finals — fell to the turf. On the sideline, his manager, the French World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane, pumped his fist to mark his second title in two seasons as Madrid’s coach. He had earlier lifted the trophy as a player for Madrid.

Far down the field, Buffon peeled off his gloves and walked slowly toward the center circle. Madrid players took turns seeking him out to offer their condolences amid their joy. Buffon, a three-time loser in the final, accepted each hug with a wry smile and a knowing shrug.

Here’s how Real Madrid won their 12th title:

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Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus tackled Karim Benzema of Real Madrid in the early minutes of the Champions League Final.

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David Ramos/Getty Images

5’: Juventus Tests Keylor Navas Early

After a late start due to a Black Eyed Peas concert, both sides took the pitch in earnest. Juventus was on the front foot in the first five minutes, as Higuain tried a soft header and a harder shot, both of them saved easily by Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

The Italians are also sending a couple of early messages in midfield. Sami Khedira whacked Luca Modric to stop an early counter, and Leonardo Bonucci just stripped Marcelo — leaving him in the grass too. Pjanic had the first real dangerous chance, a right-footed rocket that Navas had to dive to push away.

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Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon looked back at Cristiano Ronaldo after Ronaldo scored in the first half.

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Filippo Monteforte/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

20’: Ronaldo Strikes First

Cristiano Ronaldo drifted and wandered through the first 20 minutes, and finally found the space he needed to make it 1-0.

Juventus would have regarded the first 19 minutes or so as something of a success: the Italian champion had found its feet quicker, and seemed unfazed by Real Madrid’s status as holders. It had created the best three chances, too, two falling to Gonzalo Higuain and one to Miralem Pjanic. Needless to say, after 19 minutes and 35 seconds, Real Madrid scored, Ronaldo’s shot deflecting off Leonardo Bonucci, silencing the Italian fans and making Ronaldo the first player to score in three Champions League finals.

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Mario Mandzukic scored the first goal for Juventus and tied the match.

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Phil Noble/Reuters

27’: Mandzukic Answers for Juventus

Ronaldo was the one shaking his head seven minutes later, when Mario Mandzukic tied the game with a breathtaking finish: controlled off his chest, and then almost bicycled over Navas in the Madrid goal.

The goal came the last touch of a gorgeous interchange between three Juventus players in the penalty area: six touches without the ball hitting the grass until it was in the back of the net.

Silenced by Ronaldo’s goal, the Italians started to sing again.

Rory Smith: There have not been many better goals in Champions League finals in recent years than Mandzukic’s goal to draw Juventus level — a back-to-goal overhead kick, teed up by Higuain. A couple stand out —Zinedine Zidane, for Real against Leverkusen in 2002; Hernan Crespo’s second for AC Milan against Liverpool in 2005 — but Mandzukic’s belongs in the conversation.

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Dani Alves battled for control of the ball in the first half.

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Javier Soriano/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Juventus Gets Physical After Goal

The goals certainly gave the half the edge it was looking for. Despite scoring first, Real Madrid briefly looked flustered in the minutes after Mandzukic’s equalizer. Sergio Ramos, a step behind, picked up a yellow for a foul that stopped a counter. Benzema got caught throwing an elbow as he challenged for a header. Modric dropped Dybala at full speed and then Dani Carvajal joined Ramos in the referee’s book. That made it two Madrid defenders on yellows with a long way to go.

Juventus cannot afford to trade blow for blow with Madrid, though. Composure and control is what they want, not a shootout.

Halftime: Juventus Happy to Be Level

When the whistle blew for halftime, it was not Ronaldo or Benzema or Higuain or Dybala that everyone was talking about. It was Mandzukic, whose wonderful goal tied the score, flipped the momentum Madrid had grabbed with the open, and put the holders on their heels for about 10 minutes.

Juventus Coach Massimiliano Allegri had to be pleased. His team drove the bus for much of the half, and with the exception of Ronaldo’s goal — a great buildup finished by a great player — his defense seemed organized, composed, steady.

Zinedine Zidane had more to think about. Two defenders picked up yellows, and his team seemed to be ballwatching on the Mandzukic goal. What he really needed, though, is a bit more up front. That, as always, depended on better from his midfield — Modric and Kroos. But his is a team that can score, and Juventus cannot rely on wondergoals to make up for mistakes.

Rory Smith: Juventus’ approach was clear in the first half: Massimiliano Allegri, its coach, identified a weakness on the right side of Real Madrid’s defense, and used Mario Mandzukic — when he wasn’t scoring acrobatic goals — to occupy Dani Carvajal and free up space for the overlapping full-back, Alex Sandro. It worked: Juventus has, marginally, been the more threatening of the teams. Real Madrid, though, is more than happy to play on the break, and if it can find a little more space and time for Isco, in particular, has proved it can trouble Juventus’ fabled defense.

2nd Half: Real Madrid Heating Up

The start of the second half has been Real Madrid’s best spell of the game. Isco — selected ahead of the not-yet-fully-fit hometown hero Gareth Bale — has grown steadily more influential, and Juventus is rocking on its heels for the first time. That makes things interesting for Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, who has Bale warming up. Bale would inject pace, but who he would replace with the game so finely balanced is unclear. Watch out for the flaring tempers of Sergio Ramos, on a yellow card already, and his old Barcelona rival Dani Alves, too. They’re starting to simmer.

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Real Madrid’s Casemiro celebrated after scoring the go-ahead goal in the second half.

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Carl Recine/Reuters

61’: Real Madrid’s Casemiro Scores Past Buffon

Real Madrid, a different team in the second half, was rewarded (and a bit lucky) when a shot by Casemiro from 30 yards was deflected past Buffon in the 61st minute. It was an oh-what-the-heck shot, off a short clearance from a broken play, but Casemiro hit it hard and a glancing touch was enough to send it spinning inside the left post.

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Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second goal early in the second half.

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Alastair Grant/Associated Press

64’: Ronaldo Scores Again, Stretching Lead to 3-1

Only minutes after Casemiro’s shot kissed in off a defender’s heel, Ronaldo made it 3-1 with what was almost a carbon-copy of his first goal. This time it was Modric with the service from the end line, cutting it back into the path of Ronaldo at the edge of the 6-yard box. His ability to find those spaces — even against one of the best defenses in the world — is remarkable, and what makes him such a sublime poacher in the area.

Just like that, one could feel the engraver was getting his tools ready.

Juan Cuadrado replaced Barzagli after the goal, an offensive player for a defender from Allegri, who had no choice with the game getting away.

The sadness for Buffon in the Juve goal was palpable as Madrid celebrated: it doesn’t seem it will ever happen for him. But as with the 2015 final, when Barcelona’s skill carved up the team in front of him, even he had to admit he was falling to a better team.

Rory Smith: There are tens of thousands of jubilant Spaniards behind the goal where Gianluigi Buffon is standing, hands on hips, eyes staring a thousand yards. Real have scored two in three minutes – first a deflected shot from Casemiro, then a clever finish from Ronaldo after excellent work from Luka Modric – and Juventus looks like it is on the verge of a heart-breaking seventh defeat in a European Cup final.

Juventus, Frustrated, Is Running Out of Time

As the Juventus hopes fade, the fouls pile up. Alex Sandro and Cuadrado pick up yellows in quick succession, and Real Madrid start to pass quicker and quicker — showing off just how good they are, but also staying one step ahead of the ankle-whackers. That opened up the game nicely, to flowing attacks and, perhaps soon, a fourth Madrid goal.

Full credit must go to Zinedine Zidane, who obviously ordered Isco and Marcelo to get going down the left, and that adjustment changed the game. Zidane, who won this trophy as a player with Madrid and in his first year as coach last season, would be the first manager to lead a team to back to back championships. It helps, of course, to have Madrid’s payroll, but that can make it harder, too.

Rory Smith: Gareth Bale has his homecoming. He comes on to replace Karim Benzema, with just 15 minutes or so to wait before he is crowned a three-time champion of Europe in the city where he was born. Juventus is showing precious little sign of depriving him: Massimiliano Allegri has shifted his team’s system to try to spark something into life, but all to no avail. It would take something historic — a comeback or a collapse — to prevent Real Madrid becoming the first team since AC Milan, in 1990, to retain the European Cup, and the first team ever in the Champions League era to do it.

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Juventus players watched as Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio celebrated his late goal.

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Tim Ireland/Associated Press

Asensio Adds a 4th Goal for Real Madrid

The fourth goal does not come from Gareth Bale, the returning hero, but from the home-grown star. Marco Asensio taps in from close range, adding a gloss to the score-line that feels a little harsh on Juventus. This second half will haunt the Italian champion for some while: it has crumbled when the pressure mounted, something all that experience it has marshaled in defense was supposed to guard against. Many Italian fans had left the stadium before Felix Brych’s whistle confirmed that Real Madrid, once again, is champion of Europe.

It’s worth noting that the Champions League trophy was presented not in the stands, but on the field. It’s a change instituted by Aleksandar Ceferin, the Uefa president, who felt it’s more appropriate for the grandees of the game to go to the players — the actual stars — rather than the other way round.

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