By Aristo Dotse
It is still somewhat surprising that no team, not even Joseph Guardiola’s glorious 2008-12 Barcelona team, has been able to win the European Cup on the trot since it became the Champions League in 1992. Maybe, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid team can end that jinx and make history as the first to retain the Champions League in this season’s final in Cardiff on Saturday.
Real Madrid – the masters of Europe’s premier club competition, having won it a record 11 times, four more than nearest rivals AC Milan – are the reigning champions of Europe. And they have the chance to successfully defend their crown against Juventus after they defeated city rivals Atletico Madrid – the team they beat in last year’s final – in the semi-finals last month.
In Juventus, the newly crowned Italian champions for a record sixth year in succession, Real Madrid have a tough opposition at hand in a repeat of the 1998 final, which they won 1-0 courtesy a Pedrag Mijatovic goal in Amsterdam. (Massimiliano Allegri’s side eliminated Madrid’s great rivals Barcelona in the quarter-finals, winning 3-0 on aggregate after a remarkable 3-0 victory at home in the first leg on their way to the final.)
Juventus, losing finalists to Barca as recently as in 2015, have a great record in this season’s campaign, with only three goals conceded in in 12 games in the run-up to the final and winning the highest number of games – 9 – more than any other team this term in the same number of matches.
On the way to facing Barcelona in last two year’s final, Juventus stopped Real Madrid in the semi-finals, holding the Spanish champions to a 1-1 draw in Madrid after a 1-0 victory in Turin. This, coupled with their remarkable run so far this season, will give them great hopes against Zidane’s side in Cardiff.
But it would not be too surprising if Real Madrid eventually win to become the first team to retain the Champions League, as it seems this trophy was made for them when the idea of the European Champions Cup competition was fashioned out by the Frenchman Gabriel Hanot in the mid-1950s, when it all started.
Apart from being the competition’s record winners, everyone knows Real Madrid were the first winners of it and also the first to win in succession, triumphing in the first five years, from 1956 up to 1960. So logically, it seems they will be the team to win it as the Champions League in successive years with victory in Cardiff to add up to last year’s celebration in Milan, although football is no logic.
Curiously, this is the first time in the 25-year-old Champions League era that Real Madrid have found themselves in successive finals, thus they have the chance for the first time to successfully defend the Champions League, which would be a record so many teams have tried to achieve but have failed to do.
Previously, the likes of AC Milan – the last team to retain the old Champions Cup – Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United have come very close to retaining the Champions League but could not do it. Are Real Madrid the team to do it this year?
Arrigo Saachi, who followed up his club exploits with Milan to take Italy to the USA 1994 World Cup final, guided his great AC Milan team of the likes of the “Dutch Terrible Trio” of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, and Franco Baresi, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Donadoni, etc to win the Champions Cup in 1989 and 1990. But since then, since when the competition was revolutionised into the Champions League, no team has been able to win the prestigious trophy and successfully defended it.
Milan, after their 1989 and 1990 triumphs, went to three straight finals in 1993, 1994 and 1995. But they could only win in 1994 with that great 4-0 performance against Barcelona in Athens and lost the 1995 final against Ajax, who then lost their final appearance in 1996 to Juventus.
The Italian side, who have lost a European Cup/Champions League final more than any other team (seven times), emulated Milan’s three consecutive 93-95 final appearances with their own in 1996, 1997 and 1998, but their 1996 success over Ajax remains the only crown of the three successive journeys to the final, losing to Borussia Dortmund the following year and Real Madrid in 1998.
The only English side to play in two consecutive finals in the Champions League era is Manchester United, but they lost to Barcelona in 2009 in Rome after beating Chelsea in the first ever all-English final in 2008 in Moscow.
Now Real Madrid, top scorers with 32 goals in the Champions League this season, are the fifth team to get the opportunity to retain the Champions League. With their fantastic record in the history of this competition (European Cup/Champions League), it would not be a surprise for them to be the team to brink the jinx and make a new record of back-to-back Champions League victories at their first attempt, after becoming the first team to win the old Champions Cup and also retain it, and win it more than any other team. This trophy or competition seems to be theirs.
And if Real Madrid win in Cardiff to retain the cup, Zidane’s team would enter history and it would be difficult to overlook them as a great team, one of the best in the history of the European game, although they are not a particularly great footballing side.
Credit: Soccernet newspaper