If you wanted to cook up a glamorous, heavyweight showdown with stories dripping off the team sheet, you’d be hard pushed to choose a better UEFA Champions League final than Juventus versus Real Madrid.
Footballer-turned-journalist Adrian Clarke looks ahead to what promises to be a cracker in Cardiff…
Could this be Buffon’s final masterpiece?
Everywhere you look there are tales waiting to be written on Saturday night…
“The infamous holders’ curse scuppers Real Madrid.”
“Gareth Bale bags the winner in his own backyard.”
“Higuain exacts revenge on Real.”
“Zidane makes history with two in a row.”
“Ronaldo crowns the perfect season.”
All those narratives would make it a night to remember, but personally, I hope its Gianluigi Buffon who gets the headline writers all hot under the collar.
The 39-year-old legend has won virtually everything there is to win in football; he’s broken record after record; made save after save, and somehow stayed at the top of the tree for the best part of two magnificent decades.
In my book he’s second only to Peter Schmeichel as the greatest goalkeeper of all-time.
“Dani Alves, making his 100th Champions League appearance, could be a hero in waiting”
But Buffon has never got his big, brilliant hands on the Champions League.
It’s a travesty, but one which could easily be put right in Wales this weekend, for Juventus are a better ‘team’ than the Spanish champions. Unbeaten in all 12 matches in this season’s competition, Max Allegri’s men are bidding to become the first winners to stay undefeated since Manchester United lifted the trophy in 2008.
Tactically flexible, extremely solid at the back, and with a lovely blend of creativity and carnage-making up top, it’s no surprise to me The Old Lady stands on the verge of a wonderful treble.
Dani Alves, making his 100th Champions League appearance, could be a hero in waiting.
The Brazilian has ended the campaign on fire, starring in the knockout stages, and is 6/1 to add to his four CL assists. Alves’ tete-a-tete down the wing with his equally brilliant compatriot Marcelo is going to be great fun to watch.
Who will score the goals?
The predatory Gonzalo Higuain, up against his former club, is perhaps the most obvious scorer at 7/4, but the stage also looks tailor-made for teammate Paolo Dybala to cement his place among the continent’s elite.
Los Merengues want to sign the 23-year-old this summer, and the Argentine is an attractive 16/5 to score anytime with his hammer-like left foot. That’s a bet I like.
You’d also be bonkers to write off Real Madrid.
“With him, it can always go one of two ways”
I’ve watched a lot of them this season and for at least half the time they’ve been lukewarm and lethargic, but because of a plethora of pure unadulterated talent, they always score and almost always prevail. It’s 64 games and counting since Real Madrid last failed to hit the net.
Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of Zinedine Zidane’s key warriors – often delivering when it matters most – and there are some interesting flutters built around them.
Into double figures for goals this term, centre back Ramos is 7/1 to score, but I’d be less shocked if he saw red on Welsh soil. Prone to making as many gaffes as he does golden moments, the Real Madrid skipper is a top-priced 16/1 to take an early bath.
With him, it can always go one of two ways.
Man of the moment Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh from hat tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, is 33/1 to secure another treble. I prefer the 8/1 that’s available on the world’s vainest footballer to score with his head. He’s sensational in the air.
While I don’t think this final will produce a goal fest or constant squeals of excitement, I do think it’s set up to be a true high-quality showpiece.
Real Madrid have the spontaneous brilliance, Juventus the constitution of champions.
And they also have Buffon.
This potential epic to finish 1-1 after 90 minutes (53/10).
Juventus to either win in extra-time (11/1) or via penalties (12/1).
Can you imagine Buffon, at 39, saving a spot kick to seal a fabled Juventus triumph?
Actually I can, and I’d love to see it happen.
Grosvenor Sport Price Boosts
Gonzalo Higuain to score the first goal, was 4/1 to 9/2
Karim Benzema to score the first goal, was 6/1 to 7/1
Gareth Bale to score the last goal, was 13/2 to 8/1
For more football odds, take a look at Grosvenor Sport’s football betting.