First of all, apologies to those who were left on the edge of their seats after the Season Four round-off, I know I left the Champions League Final out without even a hint of mention, but I figured the biggest game in club Football deserved its own post.
All of the hard work and determination over the last four seasons has all boiled down to one game, one moment to break the infamous Guttmann curse, one chance to put ourselves back in the history books.
As for the game itself we will be taking on Turin side Juventus with both clubs looking to win their 3rd Champions League title. Juventus have been runners-up on 5 occasions with the most recent one being a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in 2015. As for ourselves, we have also finished as runners-up 5 times although the last of these came way back in 1990 with a 1-0 defeat to another Italian side, A.C. Milan. 3 of our 5 defeats in Champions League Finals have come against Italian based sides, so there’s a pessimistic atmosphere among the fans, but also hope. It’s going to be an evenly contested battle.
“It’s a damp 14 degrees Celsius night here in Manchester with rain expected throughout the night. An attendance of 75,635 are to be at Old Trafford tonight as we await the start of the Champions League Final between Portuguese side Benfica and Italian giants Juventus, it’s going to be a tasty affair.”
It’s an hour prior to kick-off and the squads have been names, let’s get a rundown of the teams participating in this year’s Final.
Benfica: (4-3-1-2) Tosetto (GK), Jorge (LB), Hernández (CB), Palomeque[c](CB), Semedo (RB), Guedes (LM), Sanches (CM), Salvio (AMR), Casquete (AMC), Andone STC), Vietto (STC).
Substitutes: Valente (GK), Samir (CB), Joao Filipe (LM), Jovic (STC), Noguera (CB), Guerreiro (LM), Zivkovic (RM).
Juventus: (3-5-2) Bürki (GK), Chiellini[c] (CB), Bonucci (CB), Rugani (CB), Alex Sandro (LWB), Cancelo (RWB), Sami Khedira (DM), Marchisio (CM), Pereyra (CM), Berardi (STC), Higuain (STC).
Substitutes: Neto (GK), Denayer (CB), Pjanic (CM), Babacar (STC), Diogo Jota (AMC), Zanandrea (CB), Matheus Pereira (AMC).
“Both squads are almost at full strength for tonight’s Final, although Benfica wlll be without the playmaking ability of Carlés Alena, but I’m not so sure that will affect their game too much.”
With the handhsaking, anthems and mascot parading complete and the players out on the pitch, referee Viktor Kassai glances at his watch before getting the game underway, the Champions League Final is up and running!
8th Minute: GOAL:
The red end of Old Trafford erupts as Luciano Vietto gives Benfica the lead on the night. A poor set-piece is headed away by Bonucci but only as far as Palomeque who picks the ball up 35 yards from goal before feeding the ball in to his central partner Hernández. The Mexican ball-playing defender finds the feet of Casquete’s who swivels and moves the ball forward to Florin Andone. The Romanian cushions the ball before sliding it through a gap in the Juventus back-line for Vietto to slot past the onrushing Bürki. 1-0 Benfica!
The following 27 minutes didn’t contain much action, while we had the bulk of possession it was Juventus who looked most likely to score on the counter. Despite having so many men behind the ball, they had the pace of Berardi up-front who could exploit our pushed-up back line, but up to this point Tosetto hadn’t really been tested.
35th Minute: GOAL:
In an unfortunate passage of play for Juventus, Benfica have taken a 2-0 lead here at Old Trafford. Left-Back Jorge has a throw-in up by the far corner and picks out Casquete, and with few options available the Ecuadorian floats the ball into the box only for Juventus full-back Alex Sandro to slice the ball past his own keeper. It’s a nightmare for the Brazilian, but a dream scoreline for Benfica!
45th minute: Kassai blows his whistle bringing the end to 45 brilliant minutes of Football from Benfica. The high energy, passing approach has simply been too much for Juventus to handle and the Italians find themselves 2-0 down at the break. Benfica are only 45 minutes away from breaking the infamous curse, one hand on the trophy already!
Now let’s see how the second half goes…
56th Minute: GOAL:
UNBELIEVABLE! Benfica have picked up exactly where they left off in the first-half and the Portuguese side now hold a 3-0 lead and it’s beginning to look like a long road back for Juventus.
Khedira clears the ball from danger but it’s a poor one and ends up of the feet of Renato Sanches with acres of space. The Portuguese prodigy chips the ball through to Casquete and the Ecuadorian playmaker once again creates a bit of space before sliding the ball through to Luciano Vietto. The Argentinian is too quick for Chiellini and his low driven shot finds its way through the legs of the former Borussia Dortmund Keeper. Surely they’re going to win it from here?
61st Minute: GOAL:
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But it’s not the man we were expecting. A long-throw from the left-hand side is headed away at the near post by Hernández but drops straight to the feet of the oncoming Rugani who doesn’t think twice about hitting it. A super volley and Juventus are on the sheet. Will this cause some nerves in the Lisbon camp?
65th Minute: GOAL:
The answer to the previous question is yes! That superb strike from Rugani has spurred on the Italians who quickly find the net for the second time in 4 minutes, this time it’s Alex Sandro who gets on the end of a Joao Cancelo cross. The Brazilian full-back gets ahead of Semedo and is able to take a touch before firing the ball past Walter Tosetto, that’s really poor defending from Benfica and the Manager can be seen going mental on the sideline. We’re in for an interesting 25 minutes here at Old Trafford!
The next 20 minutes were the most nervous I’ve ever been in my career as a Manager. Everytime the ball got near either goal the crowd fell silent, especially with the importance hanging on the next goal. Our energy in this game had been superb, but with 20 minutes left I replaced Abel Casquete with Andrija Zivkovic, he’s not a natural AMC but he gives us that extra ounce of energy going into the latter stages.
Berardi had been a threat all evening so I was glad to see the back of him when Khouma Babacar came on in the 82nd minute, interestingly Chiellini was taken off with 3 minutes left, a bit of fatigue at the back? We had a weakness to exploit, but not a lot of time to do it.
88th Minute: GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!
Benfica have surely done it now! They’ve extended their lead to two goals with only 2 minutes of regular time remaining. A tactical switch at the back saw the Juventus central defenders switched around due to the fatigue they’d succumbed to in the last 10-15 minutes.
Sanches pings the ball out wide to Eduardo Salvio who controls the ball before playing through Nelson Semedo on the overlap. The full-back with plenty of time appeared to take a poor touch which gave Alex Sandro a chance to try and block the cross, but his attempts are unsuccessful as the ball is whipped into the six yard box. Bonucci throws himself at the ball but can only divert it into his own net. Two own goals from Juventus on the night and it’s 4-2 to Benfica!
90th Minute: The Benfica fans are in hysterics, they’re dancing, cheering and singing their hearts out. Viktor Kassai takes a glance at his watch and blows for Full-Time, Benfica are the 2019 Champions League Winners! The Portuguese club have beaten Juventus 4-2 and have broken a 57 year curse, unbelievable scenes!
It’s going to take some time for this to set in…We’re the Champions…I honestly didn’t expect this going into our 4th season, I’ve even named the save “A Decade in Lisbon” because I assumed it would take around that long, but we’ve done it in under half! The lads were phenomenal all season, and during the time I’ve been in charge. We’ve invested money into the squad, sure, but we’ve sold a lot of Key Players and I never thought our young guns would be able to compete on this stage just yet, but when your luck’s in, it’s in.
So, what next?
Initially if you told me we’d have won the Champions League this season I’d have been planning my next destination. But I can’t win the trophy and run, next year we’ll be participating in the UEFA Super-Cup against Real Madrid (Yeah they won the Europa…) as well as the Club World Cup against some of the finest teams from all over the World with a view to being the first Portuguese side to win it. It’s going to be an exciting season and possibly my last in Lisbon, but that’s something to think about over the next 12 months. We’re the European Champions…Wow.
Thanks for reading, and apologies for the spoilers I leaked on Twitter…*Ahem*…
Also, a shout-out to il Medano for the idea of doing a live commentary of the match, check out his Napoli save. You won’t be disappointed!