Cristiano Ronaldo and Gianluigi Buffon will go head to head in Cardiff not only in search of the Champions League title but also in what could prove to be a decider in the selection of the Ballon d’Or winner.
In Italy the media is firmly behind Buffon’s candidature, with La Gazzetta dello Sport noting: “Buffon only stands a chance if he comes home with the Champions League title.” El Corriere adds: “It would be the icing on the cake of a glorious career.”
Buffon aiming to emulate Lev Yashin
The only keeper ever to have won the Ballon d’Or remains Russia’s Lev Yashin, who beat Milan’s Gianni Rivera and Tottenham’s Jimmy Greaves to the award in 1963. Buffon came second in the voting in 2006, after Italy’s World Cup triumph, losing out to his teammate Fabio Cannavaro. This season Juventus have already claimed the Scudetto - with Buffon the least-breached keeper in Serie A - and Coppa Italia titles and stand on the cusp of an historic treble. In the Champions League Buffon has conceded just three times in 12 games and has only been beaten on 28 occasions in 42 games in all competitions this season.
Ronaldo joins list of greats
Ronaldo, meanwhile, joins an illustrious list of players to have featured in five or more European Cup / Champions League finals: Gento (eight), Paolo Maldini (eight), Alfredo Di Stéfano (seven), Alessandro Costacurta (five), Clarence Seedorf (five), Edwin van der Sar (five), Fernando Cruz (five), José Augusto Pinto (five), Santamaría (five), Zárraga (five), Coluna (five), Patrice Evra (five) and Phil Neal (five).
If the Portuguese finds the net in Cardiff, Ronaldo will enter the history books as the player with the longest spell between his first Champions League final strike (2008) and his most recent (nine years).
Cristiano could bag 600th career goal in Cardiff
Ronaldo can also score his 600th professional goal in Cardiff, having racked up 598 in 854 official matches (404 of those in 393 games for Real Madrid). He will equal Raúl’s 144 Champions League appearances in the Welsh capital, leaving him behind only Iker Casillas (168), Xavi Hernández (157) and Ryan Giggs (151).