This Saturday, millions of people all over the world would be looking forward to the mouth watering UEFA Champions League Final that will feature Real Madrid and Juventus. The football match is scheduled to kick off at 11.45am PT (2.45pm ET) on June 2, 2017.
Real Madrid is the most successful club in the Champions League, having won it 11 times over the years and intends to be the first club in history to retain club football’s most prized honor twice in succession. The last club to do so was Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan in 1990 before the European Cup was repurposed and renamed to the Champions League. Juventus has the dubious distinction of having lost the most European Cup/Champions League finals in history, winning only twice while playing the role of bridesmaid half a dozen times. Hopefully this awful streak in the finals will finally come to an end, but they are not going to get served the Champions League trophy without having to run their socks off.
Here are interesting nuggets and sub-plots that the UEFA Champions League Final 2017 will offer, and this is the kind of stuff that sports thrives on: human stories behind the sweat and toil, as well as connections that could possibly not have been cooked up by even the most active imagination.
Zidane’s mercurial rise as Real Madrid coach
Who would have thought that in Zidane’s first full season as Real Madrid coach, he would have wrested the La Liga crown from Barcelona, and is on the brink of creating history by winning the Champions League? Shoehorned last year after the sacking of previous coach Rafa Benitez, Zidane’s coaching career was not stellar to say the least, and there were even whispers on the Real Madrid board as to who would be responsible for sacking him when results turned sour.
Confounding virtually everyone, Zidane’s team won the Champions League last year, placing him in the pantheon of greats who won the trophy as a player as well as a coach. This mercurial World Cup and European Championship winner with France has since managed to navigate around a team full of egos, and was extremely skillful in placating everyone on his team, including advising alpha players like Cristiano Ronaldo to take breaks throughout the season so that he can arrive in top form at the business end of the season. Ronaldo listened, and it has paid dividends, with the biggest one to happen just yet.
Interestingly enough, Zidane featured in two Champions League finals with Juventus as a player and lost the two of them, making his stunning 2002 volley against Bayer Leverkusen to help Real Madrid clinch their 9th Champions League medal all the more meaningful.
Gianluigi Buffon out to end his Champions League curse
The Champions League medal is the only one missing from this 40-year old goalkeeper’s trophy cabinet, having won just about everything that the world of football has to offer. He ably commands a solid defense, and his leadership skills are certainly unparalleled compared to Madrid’s end. If he walks out the winner at the end of 90 minutes (or more), it would be a great time for him to retire on a high.
Gonzalo Higuain was a previous Real Madrid striker who was deemed surplus to requirements and subsequently, offloaded to Napoli in Italy. Since then, he has continued to bang in the goals in a different league, and his shift to Juventus (while making him the fourth most expensive player in the world) showed no signs of him slowing down. Will he be back to haunt his former club, making them regret that he was sold a few years ago?
Another former Real Madrid player who is now plying his trade with Juventus is German international Sami Khedira, who has since rediscovered his form and is the perfect fit for Juventus’ playing style. Dani Alves, who is 34 this year but has turned back the clock with his performances on the pitch this year, is a former Barcelona player. Barcelona are the eternal enemies of Real Madrid, and in recent years, Barcelona has dominated the competition as well as bossing things around on the domestic front. You can be sure that if Dani Alves turns up in this game, he will definitely be influential in carving up the winner, or even scoring himself from an improbable situation.
With so much hanging on the match, who do you think would emerge as champions?