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Real Madrid look to confirm dynasty status with Juventus standing in the way

first_imgDYNASTIES are cyclical. Right up until the 1990s Real Madrid prided themselves on having won more European Cups (six) than any other club. While it is true, their rivals could always snort and cruelly point out that all of that happened “in black and white” – meaning it was a long time ago, belonging to the age of sepia-tone newsreels.Indeed, 32 years passed between 1966 and 1998 when the club appeared in just one final (1981), which they lost.But Real Madrid won it three times in the five years between 1998 and 2002. On Saturday, they can make it three in four years, becoming the first back-to-back European champions since Arrigo Sacchi’s legendary Milan side in 1990.It would be their sixth European crown in the past 19 years, definitely burying those “won it in black and white” jibes. It would mean they will have won it as many times as the clubs who rank second (Milan with seven) and third (take your pick of Bayern, Barcelona and Liverpool each of whom have five) combined.This won’t just be confirmation of their dynasty; it will be vindication of a certain style of doing business. It’s a combination of massive spending power (three of the six most expensive players of all-time are in the Real Madrid squad) and a crystal-clear brand identity that gets maximised and monetised in every market on the planet.They’re not the only super club playing the global commercial juggernaut game, they just do it better than most.Standing in their way is a Juventus side who, when it comes to European competition, are playing catch-up, certainly relative to their domestic dominance, which was reaffirmed again last month when they won their sixth straight Serie A title. This will be Juventus’ ninth European Cup final (only Real Madrid, Milan and Bayern Munich have played more) yet they’ve won just two.One came on one of football’s darkest days, following the 1985 Heysel tragedy that saw 39 supporters die, while the other happened on penalties. Just as Real Madrid have won more finals than anyone, Juventus have lost more than anyone.It’s not hard to see why a clean, convincing win would mean so much to Italy’s most pedigreed and patrician club.On the pitch, at first glance, there’s a clear and convenient theme of attack vs. defence, punctuated by the fact that each has its own version of the ‘BBC’. (Leo) Bonucci, (Andrea) Barzagli and (Giorgio) Chiellini head up a Juve defence that conceded just three goals in the tournament this year. And (Gareth) Bale, (Karim) Benzema and Cristiano (Ronaldo) lead a Real Madrid attack that scored 32 times in 12 games thus far.That’s one narrative and it feeds in to the old trope of the expansive, intoxicating Spanish side against the safety-first, conservative Italian team. But, in fact, there is much more here than meets the eye. Real Madrid can beat you many different ways, but they are particularly devastating on set-pieces and on the counterattack, two tools typical of humbler sides.In Casemiro, who became a fixture after manager Zinedine Zidane took over 18 months ago, they have a genuine no-frills midfield enforcer.Meanwhile, Juventus went to another level when coach Max Allegri introduced his ‘5-star’ scheme in mid-season, essentially squeezing all his more gifted attacking players into the lineup at the same time.Critics said it would unbalance the team, but Allegri believed Juventus needed an additional dimension when pitted against Europe’s elite.In fact, one of the common threads for both Real and Juventus is humility. Neither team could get away with such attacking firepower if not for the self-sacrifice of stars donning their hardhats and turning distinctly blue-collar.Thus Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, two of the finest attacking midfielders in the world, scramble and graft when not in possession, while a centre-forward like Benzema runs himself in to the ground to create space.The parallels don’t end there. Both managers were attacking midfielders who were greeted by skepticism when they were appointed. Both have confounded the critics.There’s the delicious thicket of subplots too. Zidane himself spent five seasons at Juventus as a player before leaving for Madrid in a world-record deal that stood for eight years, an eternity in football. His fitness coach, Antonio Pintus, Turin-born and bred, was at Juve for six years in the 1990s.Both were there in Amsterdam on May 20, 1998 when Juventus were defeated in the Champions League final by none other than Real Madrid, when they won their first European Cup ‘in color’.Dani Alves, long Real Madrid’s nemesis and a three-time Champions League winner at Barcelona, is now driving the flank at Juventus. Where, incidentally, he’ll come up against his Brazil teammate and, in some ways, photo-negative, Madrid’s left-back Marcelo.All of this will play out in Wales, land of dragons and Celtic lore, and specifically at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, some three miles away from where Bale was born.It won’t be a fairytale; in this increasingly polarised and globalised sport, it’s all about the blue-bloods and the mega-rich, but it will likely be epic as giants square off for their place in history.Perhaps a place in Welsh mythology too.last_img

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