Ronaldo back to break new ground at Champions League final
When Cristiano Ronaldo runs on to the field at the Millennium Stadium, he'll being trying to break new ground on some familiar territory.
In the Champions League era, which started in 1992-93, no team has ever managed to defend its title. Madrid will get that chance today against Juventus, and Ronaldo will be leading the way.
The 32-year-old Portugal winger will be playing in the Champions League final for the fifth time in nine years. He has won twice already with Madrid, and once with Manchester United.
The conditions this time will be a little different. The match will be played under a roof for the first time because of fears of a drone attack. But Ronaldo even has experience with that.
The World Player of the Year was a regular visitor to the stadium in Cardiff during his Manchester United career. At that time, with Wembley Stadium under construction, English football played its big matches in Wales. One of those matches, however, won't be a pleasant memory.
The 2005 FA Cup final, which was played under cover, is the only one of Ronaldo's four visits with United that he didn't score and the team didn't win.
It was a rare setback in a career that continues to deliver, even as he has had to increasingly accept being on the sidelines to stay fresh for the big occasions. It's hard to argue because Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane's squad rotation system has netted Madrid the Spanish league title and yet another Champions League final.
"Obviously, what I want the most is to play more freely up front," Ronaldo said, "and that is the opportunity Zinedine Zidane has been giving me as a number nine. I play freely. I play on the wing, down the middle. I play whenever I think I should."
Ronaldo, however, is unlikely to find much freedom against Juventus, a team with one of the best defences in soccer. In 12 European games this season, Juventus has only conceded three goals and is looking to become the first undefeated champion since Manchester United in 2008.
Juventus has already collected a fifth consecutive Serie A title. Now it's about preventing a repeat of the 2015 final loss to Barcelona.
"Our squad has changed in almost every position," Allegri said. "Our confidence has increased. Our awareness of our own ability has gone up. The atmosphere has improved."
On the other sideline will be a man who has achieved more in 18 months than some coaches do in an entire career.