In the end it came down to a sight that, by now, everyone in football should be familiar with. Cristiano Ronaldo – gelled hair, polished teeth, magic in his boots – will never forget the night he scored the 600th goal of an almost implausibly brilliant career.
It was the moment everyone knew the Champions League trophy was on its way back to the Bernabéu and, once again, that the four-times Ballon d’Or winner had left his imprint all over another final.
Ronaldo had scored twice on a night when he also leapfrogged Lionel Messi as the competition’s leading scorer. No doubt he will enjoy that, too, but the real prize here was to be part of a side that have now lifted European football’s most coveted trophy three times in four seasons.
Real Madrid wrote another page in the club’s gilded history on Saturday as they became the first team to retain the Champions League in its modern expanded format. This current Blancos side also confirmed their place as one of this competition’s best-ever teams by easing to a 4-1 win over Juventus at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
Has there ever been a better goal in a European final than the improvisational volley that was witnessed here from Mario Mandzukic? Zinedine Zidane himself is on the all-time list for that spearing volley against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park in 2002. Yet it is a legitimate debate and Mandzukic might even edge it given that his goal involved the ball going between four different players without touching the floor once.
Madrid didn’t sit back and admire it, though, and on 20 minutes, they had gone ahead. It was a typically razor sharp break from Zidane’s side with Karim Benzema feeding Ronaldo, who played a one-two with Dani Carvajal before sweeping a 15-yard shot inside the far post. Juve might have been rocked but they surged again, producing a superb team move at the end of which Mandzukic scored one of the great Champions League final goals. Both teams then seemed to need a breather as we got to half-time after a frenetic but high quality first 45.
Madrid began the second half strong, with Isco and Luka Modric heavily involved while Juve were pushed back. A 20-yard effort from Isco was comfortably saved by Gianluigi Buffon, while Ronaldo just could not reach Marcelo’s deliciously curling cross. The pressure finally told when Casemiro’s speculative shot found its way into the bottom corner, with the ball flicking off Sami Khedira’s heels and spinning beyond Buffon’s reach.
Juve’s resistance was really broken just three minutes later as Madrid went for the jugular. Modric drove to the byline and hooked the ball back with Ronaldo again perfectly placed to spin a first-time finish past Buffon, who was powerless on his line.
Substitute Juan Cuadrado’s late dismissal, picking up a second yellow card for a late foul on Ramos (who arguably embellished the contact) was the final ounce of fight from a beaten Juve side. Fellow replacement Asensio sparked joyous celebrations when he finished from close range late on.
Madrid’s 2014 and 2016 final victories were dramatic, agonising affairs won right at the death. Yet their performance on Saturday was complete and Zidane’s side genuinely deserve to go down as one of the best club sides ever.