History is at stake in the sold out Cardiff Principality Stadium tonight as Real Madrid and Juventus file out to battle for Europe’s greatest trophy, the UEFA Champions League cup.
Madrid are aiming to become the first team to win back-to-back title. Juventus aim to change the narrative of a string of heart breaking losses at the final.
No club has managed successive trophies since the elite event was renamed in 1992 with the last repeat winners in the past Champions Cup format being AC Milan in 1989 and 1990.
“It is a target every Real Madrid player wants to achieve. We want to go down in history … it’s an ambition and it’s also a dream for us,” Real star Cristiano Ronaldo told uefa.com.
The record 11-time winners Real have scored a competition-leading 32 goals but now face a Juventus team which has conceded only three times in 12 games so far.
Juve, whose iconic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could become the oldest title winner at age 39, have two trophies and lost six finals, among them the last four, including a 1-0 defeat against Real in 1998.
The arena is sold out to its 66,000 capacity, with hundreds of millions more watching via television.
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos agrees that an “appointment with history” awaits his side and Juventus.
Ramos is hoping to lift the trophy for the third time in four years, which would make Zinedine Zidane’s team the first to have successfully defended it in the Champions League era.
Juventus, who have lost four finals since winning the tournament for a second time in 1996, are seeking to complete the first treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and European Cup crowns in their history.
“We have an appointment with history,” Ramos told reporters on the eve of the game in the Welsh capital.
“We never dreamed of this opportunity, but the stats are there. For us it’s a wonderful opportunity to take the cup home. Then history speaks for itself.”
The final carries with it a bewildering array of potential milestones and intriguing personal subplots.
As well as becoming the first team to retain the trophy since Arrigo Sacchi’s all-conquering AC Milan in 1990, Madrid can complete their first Liga and European Cup double since the 1957-58 season.
Chasing a fourth Champions League win, Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo needs one goal to equal Lionel Messi’s tally of 11 and become a Champions League top scorer for the fifth year in a row.
Juventus can become the eighth European club to have completed the Treble and the second from Italy, after Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2010.
But no team has lost more European Cup finals than their six and they have lost their last four in succession, including a 1-0 defeat by Madrid in the 1998 decider in Amsterdam.
Juve right-back Dani Alves can become the first player to win three European Trebles, having previously achieved the feat twice with Barcelona.
Meanwhile, three players — Juve pair Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain and Madrid striker Alvaro Morata — and Real coach Zidane will be going up against their former club.
– ‘History doesn’t count’ –
With thoughts of last week’s deadly terror attack in Manchester still fresh in the memory, there will be tight security around the game and fans have been banned from bringing bags into the stadium.
Security concerns also mean the roof of the Principality Stadium will be closed, making it the first final in the competition’s history to be played in indoor conditions.
“I think if there is a roof, it was obviously built to be used,” said sanguine Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who has lost Champions League finals in 2003 and 2015.
“I think it’s quite normal. I don’t mind. I’ve already played in such conditions, in Amsterdam against Ajax and at the 2002 World Cup, and there’s no real difference.
“If it preserves the pitch and the show, that’s fine.”
With both teams at full-strength, the main source of intrigue concerns whether Zidane will pick Cardiff native Gareth Bale, who has been out since April 23 with a calf problem, or, as expected, keep faith with Isco.
While 11-time champions Madrid possess the competition’s sharpest attack, Juve boast its meanest defence, having successively shut down the sparkling attacks of Barcelona and Monaco en route to Cardiff.
Zidane believes it should make for an entertaining encounter.
“I have played and lived in Juve. I don’t expect just defence,” said the Frenchman, who spent five years in Turin between 1996 and 2001.
“They have so much more than that. It will be an open game and that’s good.”
Juve were convincingly beaten by Barcelona in their last final appearance in 2015, but coach Massimiliano Allegri says none of his players will be thinking about the past.
“We’ve lost six finals, but history doesn’t count,” said the former AC Milan coach.
“There’s no point thinking of what happened 15, 20 or 50 years ago. We just need to do what we need to do to bring the cup home.”