No fairy tale for Buffon & Juventus, just the same old sad story

Gianluigi Buffon Juventus Champions League
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The Bianconeri were quietly confident of ending their 21-year wait for Champions League glory but they ended up losing their seventh of nine finals


Everywhere one looked at full-time at the Millennium Stadium, there were people clad in black and white in floods of tears, on the pitch and in the stands.

This defeat hit hard, primarily because it was supposed to be different this time. Juventus were supposed to win this time. They didn't. They lost. Again. The seventh time in nine European Cup finals. The fifth in a row.

Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised by Real Madrid's 4-1 victory over the Bianconeri.

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After all, the side with the worst record in European Cup finals had gone up against the side with the best record in European Cup finals. Furthermore, Real were the defending champions, a side of superstars assembled at a cost of €638.2 million (€215.9m more than Juve).

Gig Buffon Juventus PS

However, the Bianconeri had supposedly learned from their surprise appearance in the 2015 final, a 3-1 loss to Barcelona in Berlin.

They had matured, they told us, and strengthened their squad in the interim, last summer's €90m signing of Gonzalo Higuain viewed as a sign that now they could not only compete with Europe's elite on the field but off it too.

The signs were encouraging. Juve had reached the final undefeated, and having conceded just three goals in 12 games. On a demoralising night in Cardiff, they shipped four in 90 minutes. It was probably the most jarring statistic on a shocking night for Juve.

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"The approach from Real was the same," Dani Alves mused, "The difference was we didn’t defend as well as we usually do."

They had started strongly, with Higuain testing Keylor Navas twice in the opening five minutes. After being rocked by a classic Cristiano Ronaldo counter-punch 20 minutes in - Real's first shot on target - they responded wonderfully.

Mario Mandzukic Juventus Real Madrid

Casemiro Juventus Real Madrid UCL 03062017

Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus Real Madrid

In fact, they responded like potential champions, with Mario Mandzukic beating Navas with an improvised overhead kick, after a majestic move in which the ball never touched the ground as it went from Leonardo Bonucci to Alex Sandro to Gonzalo Higuain and then the Croat.

It was one of the greatest goals ever scored in any final and, at half-time, all the momentum appeared to be with the Italian champions. Yet, in truth, whatever belief they appeared to have completely disappeared during the interval. Juve went from dominant to dire in the space of 15 minutes.

From hounding every Madrid player in possession, Juve were suddenly chasing shadows. Worse, some players - perhaps overcome by fatigue after a double-winning domestic campaign - stopped chasing altogether.

Buffon baffled by Juve capitulation

“I thought it was a great approach in the first half, not giving Madrid any more advantages, and we ran really hard," captain Gianluigi Buffon mused. "Perhaps we ran a bit too hard...

"It’s a big disappointment, because we thought that we had done everything necessary beforehand to play this final and finally win it."

Cruelly for Buffon, the crucial second goal - an ambitious long-range strike from Casemiro - was, just like Ronaldo's opener, deflected. But, in truth, it had been coming.

Juve needed to rise again after falling behind for a second time but they simply fell further off the pace and were ultimately left feeling frustrated, embarrassed and disconsolate by the time the full-time whistle mercifully blew.

Higuain Juventus Real Madrid

There will be an inquest - particularly into  what exactly Massimiliano Allegri said to his side at half-time and why his side "dropped off, psychologically", as he put it - but only after another all-too-familiar painful period of dejection and defeatism.

Thanks to what they have done off the field in recent years, Juve are now in a strong economic position and have the resources and leadership to return to the summit of European football.

"We start again!" midfielder Claudio Marchisio defiantly declared, while Allegri stated, "We should’ve reacted to the second goal and defended for our lives, but this is another step we have to take in future to learn from this and mature."

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However, several members of the second-oldest side ever to play in a Champions League final might never get another chance to lift the trophy, chief among them Andrea Barzagli and Buffon.

The latter had openly admitted before the game that some of his team-mates "have at least four or years of football ahead of them. I do not."

Sadly, there was to be "no happy ending to the fairy tale" that the 39-year-old Buffon had spoken about on the eve of his third final appearance, just the same old sad story for both him and Juventus.