Buffon can cement Juventus legacy in Champions League Final

Juventus' goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon celebrates after his teammate Mario Mandzukic scores a goal.Gianluigi Buffon has won a World Cup, along with countless Serie A and Coppa Italia titles over the course of his celebrated goalkeeping career, but he still has some unfinished business. A Champions League title has eluded him despite a pair of previous opportunities with Juventus, and he will get a third chance against Real Madrid in the Champions League Final in Cardiff on Saturday.

The defining characteristic of Buffon’s career has been loyalty, to his team and to his country. His abundance of talent in net apparently attracted serious interest from major Premier League clubs before he even reached Juventus, but Buffon spurned them all to stay in his native Italy. That loyalty was vindicated in 2006 when Buffon backstopped Italy to a World Cup title, but it was tested around the same time when Juventus was relegated to Serie B as punishment for match-fixing. Unlike many other high-profile Juventus players, Buffon remained with the club, helping restore it to its former glory with active streaks of six straight Serie A titles and a record three straight in the Coppa Italia.

Buffon hasn’t done it alone, with one of the best back lines in the world playing in front of him. Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Andrea Barzagli were joined this season by full-back Dani Alves, who has added another dimension to Juventus at both ends of the pitch. Together, the unit has combined to allow three goals over the entire Champions League tournament, and just one during knockout stages against attack-minded squads like Barcelona and Monaco, and Buffon made some incredible saves against Monaco’s Mbappe and Bernardo Silva in the semifinal tie to ensure another shot at a title.

Buffon and Juventus lost to Manchester United in the 2003 Champions League Final and fell to Barcelona after returning to the title game two years ago. Real Madrid won’t make things any easier for them, having won twice in the last three years on the strength of a lineup stacked with megastars, from the attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema, to Sergio Ramos and Marcelo on the back end. The defending champions ran roughshod over their knockout stage opponents, averaging three goals per game until the second leg of the semifinals, when they weathered a 2-1 loss to Atletico Madrid and advanced on aggregate.

Juventus can’t expect to contain an attack as varied as Real Madrid’s for a full match (Ronaldo alone scored eight goals in the last two rounds), so Buffon will most likely need to make a few more acrobatic stops to preserve the club’s shot at a rare continental treble. Retirement is a very real possibility for Buffon at 39 years old. This could easily be his final chance to win at the highest level of European club competition - and in turn help Juventus avoid extending its record number of Champions League Final losses to seven.