Dani Alves orchestrated another brilliant Juventus performance in this season’s Champions League as a 2-1 win over Monaco on home turf secured a 4-1 aggregate triumph and a place in the final.
Juventus’ half-decade dominance of Serie A is yet to translate into success on the continental stage, but the Bianconeri have never looked better placed to win a third European crown than Massimiliano Allegri’s current crop do.
Along with Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic, Alves is one of just three players in this squad to have won the big trophy and the Brazilian followed up two assists at Stade Louis II with another star turn, helping Mandzukic to the nerve-settling opener before blasting in before the break to allow 45 minutes of joyous celebrating and frantic seeking of hostelries in Cardiff.
Kylian Mbappe’s zip and zeal was rewarded with a second-half goal that rounds off a stunning debut season for the 18-year-old.
Though Monaco’s brilliant babes will not share a European crown before they are sold off to the highest bidder, they are tantalisingly close to the Ligue 1 crown, and surely the likes of Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and Mbappe will have greater tales to tell in this competition over the next decade.
But those prodigies and their wise old figurehead Radamel Falcao barely laid a glove on Juve over two legs and the determined, drilled – and occasionally dastardly – trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will relish a showpiece battles of ‘BBC’ line-ups, with Real Madrid – of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano – 3-0 up on neighbours Atletico in the other semi-final.
The Juve defence is still to be breached from open play in this season’s competition and, having played the underdog to Barcelona two years ago, Allegri’s stronger, slicker side may well head to the Welsh capital as favourites this time around.
Defiance rumbled down from the stands pre-match as the home fans bellowed ‘CHAMPIONS’ amid the pre-match anthem and a ‘Time for Cardiff’ banner greeted the players out of the tunnel and a nervy opening was ridden out in typically stubborn fashion.
Gianluigi Buffon stretched out a tweaked back in the warm-up and flapped at an early cross before Mbappe beat him to a high ball and struck a post amid the raising of an offside flag and there were further signs of danger for Juve when Khedira twanged a hamstring and had to be replaced by Claudio Marchisio.
But as the storm passed, Juventus thundered back into the contest, Kamil Glik and Danijel Subasic desperately denying Gonzalo Higuain and Mandzukic before the Croatian striker finally found a way through.
As in the first leg, Alves found the key to unlock Monaco, his pin-perfect cross finding Mandzukic, who lashed high into the net after Subasic brilliantly denied his initial header.
Juve smelled blood and Higuain was denied a goal by the assistant’s flag before Chiellini celebrated a geometrically thrilling goalline clearance as if he had scored – soon the stadium would do so again.
Subasic denied Paulo Dybala one-on-one but was left flailing when he punched the resulting corner onto Alves’ right boot and the three-time Champions League winner returned with interest, smashing a laser-guided volley into the net.
Buffon was beginning to look unbeatable as he sprawled to deny Mbappe one-on-one but the teenager would have his goal soon after as he turned in from inches after Joao Moutinho got to the byline from a short corner.
Higuain was left enraged after collecting some war wounds from former Torino defender Glik as the visitors grew tetchy in the closing stages, but the Argentine will recover for another assault on a major final where he will look to improve on a desperate record with Argentina.
Poorer omens follow in Juve last beating Monaco at this stage of the Champions League before losing to Real Madrid in the 1998 final, but Allegri’s vintage are made of the stern stuff required to turn history on its head.
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