We are reaching the end of this season and, inevitably, teams around Europe and worldwide are preparing themselves for the summer transfer window. The focus for many will be on exciting prospects and young talents from around the globe. Here is a list of 13 talented African footballers who are going to be high on […]
With goals from Mario Mandzukic and Dani Alves, Juventus cruised into the Champions League final courtesy of a 4-1 aggregate win over Monaco. Two years since losing to Spanish opposition in the 2015 final, the Old Lady has a chance to rectify that pain and lift the trophy for the third time in their history.
Here are five key talking points from the semi-final triumph…
Dani Alves Ballon D’Or?
He’s won the Champions League three times already, but if you thought Dani Alves‘ acrimonious departure from Barcelona after eight seasons signalled the winding down of his illustrious career, think again.
Alves was once again exceptional here, setting up the first goal with a sumptuous right foot cross to Mandzukic before slamming home a rocket of a volley to make it 2-0, charging off to celebrate in his trademark charismatic style as it flew in.
WE SIGNED DANI ALVES FOR FREE…… pic.twitter.com/GoQ0vggE64
— Juvefc.com (@juvefcdotcom) May 9, 2017
One of the more iconic images of this Champions League season for me is the one of Alves, back at Camp Nou ahead of the quarter finals, kneeling down to kiss the Barcelona turf in deference. Alves is on record saying he loves football but hates the politics around it, and those politics were a huge contributing factor to him leaving the Catalan capital after so many years last summer.
Few free transfers have paid off quite so rapidly as Alves’ to Juventus. Yes he may be 34, but the Brazilian continues to offer a presence at right-back that no other player can match. Two clean sheets against Barcelona, two sensational performances in the semi-finals surely cement his place as one of the great right-backs of modern times – if not the greatest.
Alves has redefined the right-back role over the last decade, and he’s done it in style. It’s good to see him getting the credit his magnificent career deserves.
Monaco can be proud but mistakes proved costly
After a bright start, time after time here Monaco gave possession away cheaply in midfield. Ultimately it proved fatal to their Champions League hopes.
A perfect example of this came just before half time. Monaco conceded possession for the umpteenth time to allow Juventus to win a corner. Their keeper Danijel Subasic looked around at his players, having bailed his team out with several fine saves already, as if to say ‘help me out here guys, jeez’. From the resulting corner it was 2-0, Dani Alves thumping home a wonderful volley after Subasic chose to punch the cross.
Monaco’s midfield was simply not at the races in the opening 45 minutes, and Juve lapped it up, simply waiting for them to give the ball away and then swarming forward. You can’t afford to be so slack with players of the calibre of Miralem Pjanic, Paulo Dybala, Mandzukic and Higuain around, but while Monaco learned a harsh lesson in this semi-final they can be hugely proud of making it to the last four in the first place.
— AS MONACO 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) May 9, 2017
Players like Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Thomas Lemar and Falcao have been outstanding in the Champions League this season, with many of their talented youngsters coming of age on the European stage.
Now to wrap up the Ligue 1 title.
Brilliant Buffon deserves Champions League winners medal
— JuventusFC (@juventusfc) May 9, 2017
Juventus had kept six consecutive clean sheets heading into this game, including 180 minutes without conceding against Barcelona’s attacking crown jewels of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. That run ended in the 69th minute via Kylian Mbappé’s sixth Champions League goal, but by then Juve were 4-0 up and coasting, the tie more or less done.
If Juventus’ success can be traced back to their formidable back line, the bedrock of those triumphs comes in the shape of their inspirational, evergreen goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Buffon made his professional debut nearly two years exactly before his opponent tonight, Monaco striker Kylian Mbappé, was even born. But at 39 he is still yet to win a Champions League medal, losing two finals, in 2003 and 2015.
Nobody would begrudge the legendary Italian stopper winning his first Champions League medal in Cardiff on June 3rd, to add to his collection that includes a World Cup winners’ medal, a UEFA Cup and seven league titles.*
“People thought 2015 would be my last Champions League final, and maybe I did too,” Buffon told broadcasters after the Monaco game. “But you have to believe in your dreams right until the end.”
* – Nine if you include the two revoked through the courts following the Calciopoli scandal.
The transformation of Mario Mandzukic
No longer the focal point of Juve’s attack, Mario Mandzukic has nonetheless proved to be a very important player for the Old Lady – and showed as much again here.
Many might have thought at the start of the season that the arrival of striker Gonzalo Higuain for an eye-wateringly high transfer fee might have spelt the end for Mandzukic in Turin, especially with Paulo Dybala also around up top. But Max Allegri has found a way to integrate all three into the same lineup, as he did for this game, and it paid dividends.
Mandzukic forced a quality save from compatriot Subasic in the 25th minute, before firing the opening goal after a sumptuous cross from Dani Alves in the 33rd minute. His work rate and commitment to the cause were crucial to the win, and he’s had a fine season.
Over to you Gonzalo…?
Et tu, Gonzalo? Another big final, another chance for Gonzalo Higuain to finally put some ghosts to rest.
Huge, memorable misses in World Cup and two Copa America finals have given Higuain a bit of a reputation for flopping on the big occasion in recent years, and it’s a tag he will want to get rid of in Cardiff, with the chance to help the club that paid €90 million for him last summer win the Champions League.
Higuain has hit 32 goals this season but was guilty of a another big miss here. Clean through in the 22nd minute with the score goalless, he tried to chip it over Subasic and got it hopelessly wrong. He won’t want to repeat that trick should such a chance present itself in the final, likely against former club Real Madrid.
(main image credit: Juventus FC via Twitter.)