When the shot that broke his heart took a cruel deflection, evaded his desperate dive and nestled in the back of the net, Gianluigi Buffon sat on the beautiful green baize of the Principality Stadium and flung his left arm in the air in disgust and despair.
He stayed there for a while, staring out towards the spot where Casemiro had unleashed the 62nd minute shot that put Juventus behind for the second time, knowing that it was probably the moment that his dream of crowning his magnificent career by finally winning the Champions League had died.
Because of the man he is and because of the player he has been, so many wanted the Juventus keeper to win this so badly. But sometimes sport plays along with sentimentality and sometimes it crushes it. As Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid overwhelmed Buffon and Juventus on Saturday night, it showed no mercy.
It looks now as if the quest of a man who has become a living legend to win the one prize that has eluded him is over. He is 39 now and him winning in Cardiff, defying the might of Madrid and Ronaldo, was the story the romantics yearned for. ‘People do like fairy tales,’ Buffon had said on the eve of the final, with a glint in his eye but the fairy tale never happened.
In the end, Buffon was just a foil, the man who could not stop the juggernaut of Ronaldo’s career. The Real Madrid forward has won it four times now as his life skips from glory to glory. His team just became the first side to retain the Champions League. On a big night in Cardiff, Buffon was a bit-part player.
Maybe it was just destiny. The first time Buffon touched the ball with his hands was to pick the ball out of the back of his net. That was a deflection, too, that time from Ronaldo after 20 minutes.
The second goal, the crucial goal, spun off Sami Khedira after Casemiro’s strike. The third goal, again by Ronaldo, fizzed past Buffon’s right hand from close range.
The fourth, the one that completed Buffon’s humiliation, was dispatched in the dying seconds by Marco Asensio. Buffon stood with his hands on his hips this time. He looked embarrassed. His team and the mystique of its inpenetrable defence had been destroyed. It felt as though Buffon deserved better than this.
He came close to winning the competition twice before, breaking down in tears after losing to Milan on penalties in the 2003 final at Old Trafford, and again when Juventus were beaten by Barcelona two years ago in Berlin. Chasing the trophy has kept him going as he approaches 40. Now he may have to look elsewhere for motivation or accept age’s embrace.
Buffon has had a stellar career. He won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, the most significant of the 168 appearances he has made for his country, which makes him the most capped European player in history. If he makes it to Russia 2018, he will become the first man to play in six World Cups.
Then there is his club career. He won Serie A eight times(or 10, if you count the two titles that Juventus were stripped of after a corruption scandal) and has played more for the club than any other player apart from Alessandro del Piero. He won the Uefa Cup with Parma in 1999.
But aAt 39 years of age, time is running out for World Cup winner Buffon to complete his medal collection, but he is refusing to give up.
“I still have one more year on my contract, so that means I have one more chance of winning the Champions League,” he told Sky Sport Italia.
“Admittedly, it’ll be tough to do better than this year, because we could’ve done something truly incredible this season.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t manage it.”