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Buffon was SURE he’d get another chance at the Champions League final after 2015 heartbreak

Date Posted,May 31, 2017

Gianluigi Buffon will become the oldest player to win the European Cup if Juventus complete their Treble on Saturday night.

For a veteran who has remained faithful to the Old Lady of Turin for 16 years, their alliance borders on matrimony.

At the age of 39 years and 126 days, keeper Buffon accepts the Champions League final against Real Madrid, in Cardiff, may be his last chance to win the only major honour to elude one of European football’s greats.

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And, for all the genius and hubris assembled by Zinedine Zidane among Real’s Galacticos, nobody at the Principality Stadium – not even Welsh superstar and hometown boy Gareth Bale – will have a greater incentive to hoist the 11kg trophy above the River Taff than Buffon.

Juventus have already won a sixth consecutive Scudetto in Serie A and the Coppa Italia. Now Buffon has another shot at landing the jewel in the crown.

Think of a record in his art, and Buffon has probably broken it.

Juventus won the Coppa Italia final on May 17… (Photo: Getty)
…then Buffon and co celebrated a stunning sixth successive Scudetto four days later (Photo: AFP/Getty)

From Italy’s most-capped player to the world’s most expensive keeper – with the changes in the conversion rate, the £35million deal Manchester City just struck with Benfica for Ederson falls way short of the €53m Juve paid for ‘Gigi’ in 2001 – he has been incomparable and impregnable.

His compatriot Dino Zoff was 41 when he played in what was then called the European Cup final, 34 years ago, as Juve lost to Hamburg.

But if the Old Lady crosses the road safely this time, Buffon will surpass the great Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, who was 39 years and 39 days old when he helped Real Madrid win it in 1966.

Luis Suarez was among Barca’s goal-scorers as they beat Juve 3-1 in Berlin… (Photo: Getty)
…leaving many wondering if the 37-year-old Buffon would ever win the competition (Photo: Getty)

The man in Italy’s goal as they won the 2006 World Cup final against France on penalties admitted: “I have always maintained that, in football, making the final means nothing if you don’t win it.

“I don’t look at the Champions League as the trophy that evades me – but, yes, it is a big dream for me to win it.

“After the defeat to Barcelona in the final, two years ago, many people thought I would never have another chance, but I always believed that, if we worked hard, I would get another opportunity – and this time we must make it count.

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“Zidane has created a fantastic Real Madrid team and they will be looking to create their own history by winning consecutive Champions League titles.

“We all know about the quality of their players – all we can do now is to be as ­well-prepared as possible.”

With Real eyeing a third Champions League crown in four years – and becoming the first to retain the famous old pot since AC Milan did it in 1990 – Europe’s top club honour could be annexed by Spain for the seventh time since Barcelona beat Arsenal in the 2006 final.

Buffon and Fabio Grosso, who hit the crucial penalty, go nuts as Italy win the 2006 World Cup (Photo: Reuters)
He’s under there somewhere, folks. Honest! (Photo: AFP/Getty)

However, Buffon expects English clubs – whose challenge this season petered out when Manchester City fell in the last 16 and Leicester’s magic ran out in the quarter-finals – to rise again.

He said: “Dominance in the Champions League comes in cycles and, over my career, I have seen many cycles of domination among clubs from Spain, England and Italy. It is not so long ago that three of the four clubs in the ­semi-finals were from the Premier League, and Manchester United and Chelsea were winning the competition.

“They have not been so successful over the more recent years, but, with the size of the clubs and the resources they have in the Premier League, I expect they will dominate again in future.”

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Buffon’s confidence in an English revival is underpinned by the success of his fellow citizens in the Premier League, where Chelsea’s Antonio Conte last month became the fourth Italian to win the title in eight seasons.

Max Allegri is the latest to take Juve to the final frontier, and Buffon added: “Italy have always produced successful coaches, so it is no surprise that they do well in the Champions League.

“Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini both won titles in England. And, of course, the story of Claudio Ranieri and Leicester is one of the most beautiful in football.

“Now there is Conte, who I am sure will go on to achieve many more things with Chelsea.”

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