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How Madrid's 2003 loss to Juventus spelled the end of the Galactico era

Real Madrid looked ready to define an era. The Champions League winner in 1998, 2000 and 2002, Vicente del Bosque's spectacular side was strengthened by the summer signing of Ronaldo after the World Cup and seemed set to dominate. But instead of the start of something special, it was the beginning of the end.

An embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Mallorca had ended Madrid's hopes of winning the Copa del Rey in late January, but this team had bigger fish to fry. Winner of La Liga after holding off the stubborn and surprising challenge of Real Sociedad, Real faced Juventus in the Champions League semifinals.

A 2-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu gave Del Bosque's men the edge and they were firm favorites ahead of the second leg in Turin. But everything went wrong for Real at the Stadio Delle Alpi.

David Trezeguet gave Juve the lead to level the tie after just 12 minutes, Alessandro Del Piero put the Italians ahead with a low drive to punish poor defending just before halftime, and the excellent Pavel Nedved struck the crucial third as he let the ball bounce and hammered home in the second half.

At 2-0 down, Luis Figo had seen a weak penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon and even though there was brief hope for Madrid after Zinedine Zidane's 89th-minute strike, Juve held on for a 4-3 aggregate win.

With players like Del Piero, Trezeguet, Nedved, Buffon, Edgar Davids, Lilian Thuram, Mauro Camaronesi and Gianluca Zambrotta, Juventus was a top team at the time, but the result was still a significant surprise that sent shock waves through the very heart of the Spanish side.

Missing the suspended Nedved, Juve went on to lose one of the most forgettable finals in the competition's history as AC Milan won it on penalties following 120 minutes without a goal at Old Trafford.

In Madrid, meanwhile, the winds of change began to blow. Del Bosque's contract was not renewed, despite his success in winning two Champions League crowns and two Liga titles. Veteran defender Fernando Hierro was deemed surplus to requirements. Later in the summer, holding midfielder Claude Makelele was surprisingly allowed to join Chelsea after Madrid baulked at his wage demands.

By then, Carlos Queiroz had replaced Del Bosque as president Florentino Perez and sporting director Jorge Valdano spoke of embracing a more modern approach. It sounded good, but it wasn't.

After losing its dynamic defensive midfielder and the center back who had led the back line for a decade, Madrid made only one signing in the summer window as David Beckham arrived from Manchester United. In Luis Figo, Real already possessed the world's best right winger. What the club needed was a defender like Hierro, a holding midfielder like Makelele and a coach like Del Bosque. They didn't need Beckham.

Nevertheless, things went well initially. Madrid led La Liga for much of the season, reached the final of the Copa de Rey and advanced in the Champions League before capitulating in spectacular style in all three competitions at the end of the season. Los Blancos lost the cup final to Zaragoza, ended up third in La Liga and fell to Monaco — and its own on-loan forward Fernando Morientes — in the last eight of the Champions League.

What followed was a managerial merry-go-round. Jose Antonio Camacho coached Madrid for only six games, Mariano Garcia Remon stayed for just 20, Wanderlei Luxemburgo lasted 45 and Juan Ramon Lopez Caro was in charge for 24. It was a disastrous decline and Perez resigned in 2005, his Galactico project in tatters.

Now in his second spell as Madrid president, Florentino finally has the man he first laid his eyes on back in 2003: Ancelotti. The former Milan midfielder led the Rossoneri to the title that Perez had hoped would be returning to the Santiago Bernabeu. Before the end of his first mandate, he tried to lure Carletto to Real.

That was the first of three attempts to bring the Italian to the Bernabeu, and it was a case of third time's the charm as Ancelotti accepted in 2013, brought La Decima to Real in his first season and added the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup as well.

But in what is a curious coincidence, the future of the latest Perez project, and the coach's continuity, now depend again on the outcome of a Champions League semifinal against Juventus — just like they did in 2003.

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