Diego Forlan: Juventus v Real Madrid the perfect Champions League final, but I would love to see Buffon win it
Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.
Juventus against Real Madrid, what a Uefa Champions League final we have to look forward to, after the semi-finals were decided this week. I do not think there has been a more evenly matched final for years.
Madrid, the holders, have a better attack; Juventus, who knocked them out in 2015, have a better defence. Yet Juventus have Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado in attack, all top level players, all match winners, all in form.
Do I need to say anything about Madrid’s attack? That will make them the favourites as they hope to become the first team in the Champions League era to retain the trophy. But what I like about both teams is how they can vary their games. Both like to play good attacking football, both can switch formations, they can counterattack, they can absorb or apply pressure, slow the game or speed it up, play long balls or neat passes.
Zinedine Zidane is relatively new to management, but he has impressed me tactically and especially how he has used his squad players and varied his tactics. Massimiliano Allegri is a tactical master. One of the best games I saw him in charge of was the 2015 semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu, when Juventus went through, at Madrid’s expense, by controlling a game where they did not have the ball. It sounds like a contradiction. It wasn’t.
More on the Uefa Champions League
Both teams have truly great squads with so much talent that wonderful players will be on the bench for the final in Cardiff. They have everything – that has got them to where they are today and almost no weaknesses. They are both really hard to beat.
Juventus may have lost Paul Pogba, but they are better than they were when they lost the 2015 final to Barcelona. They are more experienced, wiser and confident in their own abilities. They showed all of that by going to Camp Nou and defending a 3-0 lead in the quarter-final second leg. They have Dani Alves in a great moment, full of experience, talent and determination to prove that he has still got what it takes to perform at the highest level, just like Patrice Evra did. Alves was excellent against Monaco in the semi-final.
I would love to see Gianluigi Buffon win the Champions League at the end of his career. That would be like a movie with the happy ending that everyone wants. He is 39 and still at a very high level. I am not saying that he should stop playing and besides, if he wins then he will want to win the Fifa Club World Cup, to be held in Abu Dhabi in December, but it would be great for him to be a European champion after being runner-up in 2003 and 2015. He has won almost everything, including the World Cup.
Juventus could win a sixth successive Serie A title this weekend – their 33rd scudetto – a record. They have remained excellent in Europe alongside their domestic dominance.
That has gone against other clubs. You could see Glasgow Celtic or Paris Saint-German winning every week and then being stung when they suddenly come up against a much better opponent in Europe. I think Bayern Munich would be better if there were three or four stronger German teams too, so it is to Juventus’ credit that they have been even better in Europe.
They also did something at the start of this season which strengthened their position domestically: they signed Higuain, the best player of their main rivals. Not only did they get a great striker, they damaged their closest opponents. It was similar to what Real Madrid did to Barcelona when they signed Luis Figo, who had been their best player.
Juventus have also done really well in spite of injuries and in spite of losing Pogba, who the players thought would stay, plus Evra mid-season. Allegri has a solid, trusted core. That final against Barcelona came at the end of his first season at Juventus. This one comes at the end of his third. He is ready.
While I am looking forward to the final immensely, I am also disappointed that Atletico Madrid are not in it. They lost the tie in the first leg at the Bernabeu, but were excellent in the second leg in the first half when they went 2-0 up against Real after 16 minutes. They almost did it; they had Real on the ropes. That magnificent, noisy, Calderon crowd, who I love so much, were on form; they really believed that it was possible.
But then Real showed why they are the champions. Karim Benzema stung. The save from Jan Oblak was first class, but then it was cruel, a rebound for Isco. It also gave Real a crucial away goal, but then they always score. They had scored in their previous 61 matches. They are always a danger, even though they have benefited from some decisions which have helped them, as when Arturo Vidal was sent off for Bayern Munich in the quarter final after Bayern had done so well.
At least the Calderon got to witness a great last European game, with Atletico beating Real Madrid 2-1 on the night. I hope the final in Cardiff, a stadium I played at with Manchester United and one which is fit for the biggest game in European club football between the two best sides in the world on current form, does their talent justification.
The atmosphere at Cardiff, where the stands rise steeply from the pitch and the fans are always in a good mood, will be wonderful.
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Updated: May 11, 2017 04:00 AM