On football's biggest night, Real Madrid and Ronaldo reminded the world that the game is always about glory
In the astonishing opening to this incredible final, Real Madrid had seemed liked a bewildered bystander.
Juventus had begun with a purpose which suggested that all the lost finals and all those regrets would be forgotten.
Cristiano Ronaldo was appealing to the referee for fouls, but he looked like a man who lived under a flightpath rushing out into his garden to wave his fist at planes.
Juventus had started with a ferocious intensity which seemed to take Real Madrid by surprise. Champions League finals should be tentative and tense. If there was tension, Juventus were determined to release it. They attacked and swarmed all over Madrid. They were answering the questions asked of them and answering some others too.
And then, in the middle of all this, Ronaldo scored. And then, in a second half which was as cruel as the first was compelling, Ronaldo scored again, his 600th goal for club and country. It would be tempting to say that the personal milestone didn't matter here in Cardiff, but of course it did, it always does.
Few footballers have made the pursuit of personal goals so advantageous to their team, few men have done so much for their team by being so focused on individual targets.
Ronaldo's goals took the sting out of Juventus in the first place, and then made Real Madrid’s third European Cup in four years inevitable. Madrid became the first team to retain the trophy since Milan in 1990 and Zinedine Zidane has shown that sometimes great players can make great managers or, at least, become managers who know how to get the best out of great players.
This was a night where greatness kicked the door in. Juventus’s supporters had taken over the city with a spirit that added to the sense that, after 21 years, they should finally claim another European Cup. But Juventus have lost four finals since then and if many things were confirmed in the Principality Stadium, there was a reminder, ruthlessly delivered, that sentiment rarely gets a look in.
Romance was on the side of Juventus which was a statement in itself. The club which has won six straight Serie A titles and has a chequered past was seen as the underdog, but in their own way Real Madrid were demonstrating that the relentless pursuit of glory matters more.
When Juventus’s players had been ushered off the field beforehand in order for the opening ceremony could begin, it confirmed what many felt about modern football. As the Black Eyed Peas provided the music in the opening ceremony, there were many who felt the Champions League final was demonstrating again how football has lost touch with all that makes it so important. But then the final began and everything changed, modern football had never seemed better.
Ronaldo’s goal seemed to bring an end to an early period of Juventus dominance and illustrated how lethal they can be as they broke on the left, moved to the right where a one-two between Ronaldo and Dani Carvajal ended with Ronaldo sweeping the ball past Gigi Buffon.
Madrid were finding their range of passing and the goal gave them a greater authority. For seven minutes, they played with that sense of purpose that comes from winning two Champions Leagues in the past three years, that sense they were born to rule.
Then Juventus moved forward and scored one of the great goals in football history with the ball being knocked fromAlex Sandro to Gonzalo Higuain who teed it up for Mario Mandzukic who did the rest.
The second half promised a lot, but if it didn’t sustain itself as a contest, it provided the platform for Zidane’s side to prove their greatness.
Casemiro got the second goal with a deflected shot which added to the suffering for Gigi Buffon, but then Ronaldo got a third which ended the game as a contest.
Of course, Madrid take their lack of sentiment too far and there was time for Sergio Ramos to do what Sergio Ramos does as Juan Cuadrado was sent off for Juventus. Marco Asensio got the fourth to ensure Real Madrid had their 12th European Cup,
Ronaldo was named man of the match and while others might have provided the foundation, he had, once again, ensured that it was ruthlessly executed.
He wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Without that worldview, Ronaldo could not have undergone the process of reinvention he has. Only a man so sure of his own greatness could continue making himself, not just relevant, but essential. Only a man who is so certain of his own indispensability could continue to find ways of emphasising why the world should savour every triumph for this astonishing side.