The date is 3 May 2017 and Cristiano Ronaldo is looking majestic, dressed in royal purple for Real Madrid.
All that stands between Los Blancos and a second successive Champions League triumph is Massimiliano Allegri and his developing Juventus team. Cardiff is all set to host the competition’s showpiece event and Ronaldo is all set to take centre stage.
Few individuals in the game have ever been so feared, so renowned. He has been a match-winner during his whole career in Madrid, a decisive force for Real. No surprise, then, that he has a sizeable say on the destination of the trophy.
The opening period is dominated by Juve, the Italians carve out several reasonable scoring opportunities as they push and probe for the first goal of the contest. They don’t get it.
Gonzalo Higuain – battling and bruising his former teammates – meets a lofted Mario Mandzukic cross, but can only guide a harmless header into the grateful arms of Keylor Navas. The Argentine gets more purchase on his next effort, though his rifled shot goes straight down the throat of the goalkeeper.
Navas proceeds to frustrate the Old Lady yet again, athletically tipping a fierce Miralem Pjanic drive wide of his near post. Higuain and co. are more than holding their own and certainly look the likeliest to score. Ronaldo, however, has other ideas.
The Portuguese star has a sharp interchange with Dani Carvajal before latching onto the full-back’s trickling pass at the edge of the box, before unerringly sweeping beyond Gianluigi Buffon.
The ball is ever so slightly diverted away from the legendary shot-stopper after nicking Leonardo Bonucci’s boot, though it is doubtful whether he would have gotten anywhere near the original attempt, anyway. 1-0.
A rousing response follows, Allegri’s recruits rising to the occasion. Their challenge is fuelled with memories of their agonising Champions League final defeat at the hands of Barcelona two years ago. They want this victory so desperately, more than anything else.
Regrettably, they fall apart and fall well short, though not before hope is restored by a moment of magic from the magnificent Mandzukic.
One year ago today…
Mario Mandzukic produced what was considered to be the best overhead-kick scored in a Champions League final 👀
Real Madrid would go on to secure their second of three European titles in a row.pic.twitter.com/dTeYQHXqBh
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) June 3, 2018
The Croat expertly controls his strike-partner’s knock down with his barrel chest. He’s 15-yards from goal and facing away from Navas; there is absolutely no danger here. At least that’s what Real thought, as well as most of their supporters celebrating in the stands.
The roaring sea of white at the Principality Stadium is silenced by a jaw-dropping shot from Mandzukic, who instinctively manoeuvres his body and hooks an arcing effort over the helpless Costa Rican guarding the Madrid net. 1-1.
Buffon leaps and bounds, looking a man possessed as he dances to the sound of Juve fans erupting. Could he be about to add that elusive European Cup to his trophy cabinet? For a while, it seems a very real possibility.
His side reestablish themselves in the match, controlling play for the remainder of the first half. Once the game resumes after the break, it is Los Blancos who govern the tempo and press forward.
On the hour mark, the ball ricochets a couple of times in Buffon’s area, only to fall at the feet of the onrushing Casemiro a fair way out. The Brazilian unleashes hopeful hit, sending the ball clattering back into danger.
Fortune once again smiles on the La Liga club, with the blast ballooning off of Sami Khedira and looping devilishly into the corner of the net, leaving the ‘keeper wrong-footed and ruing his luck.
There is no second wind for the Bianconeri as they are ruthlessly carved open by their opponents, finding themselves two goals down having been level not five minutes prior. Their tormentor is a familiar face.
Ronaldo bursts into a claustrophobically-small pocket of space between defender and ‘keeper, nonchalantly redirecting Luka Modric’s deftly-clipped delivery in to hand Zidane’s men a healthy advantage with a quarter of the match left..
A glorious hat-trick is on the cards. Actually, no – everyone expects him to notch that third. However, he can only snatch at a Marcelo cut-back, firing it wildly into the crowd. There is still a faint trickle of light for Allegri.
That trickle nearly becomes a bright beam, but Alex Sandro’s towering header drifts marginally wide of the mark after looking destined to nestle snuggly in the bottom corner. If that was unlucky, Sergio Ramos’ actions soon after were unacceptable.
Real’s captain sizes up Juan Cuadrado, only to collapse dramatically to the floor with an alleged injury as the referee brandishes a red card for the Colombian. Television replays show the falsity of Ramos’ pain and his lack of class. It is a minor stain on Madrid’s victory, but a stain nonetheless.
We are into the closing stages now. Toni Kroos is like a puppet-master, orchestrating and organising the midfield. Gareth Bale is on and terrorising the Serie A champions with his terrifying pace. Marco Asensio? He hasn’t read the script.
Rather than Ronaldo completing his treble and sealing another European Cup for his prestigious employers, it is substitute Asensio who delivers the coup