Bale eyes Champions League glory

Bale eyes Champions League glory

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Gareth Bale can fulfil a dream of winning the Champions League in his hometown when Real Madrid take on Juventus in this weekend’s mouth-watering Cardiff showpiece.

Hordes from Madrid and Turin will descend on the Welsh capital on Saturday as the Principality Stadium plays host to two giants of the world game in a final that promises much.

The largest focus from these shores will undoubtedly be on Welsh hero Bale. Having broken through at Southampton and thrived at Tottenham, the 27-year-old has taken his game onto another level at the Bernabeu.

Bale is now getting ready for his third Champions League final in four years, with hometown glory now within touching distance.

“After winning the first Champions League, I knew the Super Cup (in 2014) was in Cardiff, so it was an amazing moment for me personally,” he told UEFA earlier in the season.

“But to have the Champions League final in my home town is an even bigger motivation.

“Everybody is mad for football, especially after the European Championship where we were able to perform so well.

“But we don’t want to make it just a one-time thing. We want to keep fighting to qualify for all the major championships. Football is hopefully on the rise more than ever.

“And I think the city of Cardiff itself is growing and is now attracting big sporting events.”

A giant banner of Bale has appeared in the Welsh capital ahead of a game that he is not sure to start.

A calf injury has kept him out since the 3-2 home defeat to Barcelona on April 23, meaning in-form Isco could instead get the nod.

Such impressive strength in depth make the holders slight favourites in a final that could see them become the first team to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.

Madrid are aiming for a 12th European Cup crown against a side that coach Zinedine Zidane represented as a player, including the 1998 final between the sides that Juve lost 1-0.

Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real are the top scorers in this season’s competition but Massimiliano Allegri’s men will be a tough nut to crack.

Having conceded just three time en route to Cardiff, the Italians are determined not to be the bridesmaid once again after losing six of their eight European Cup finals – more than any other club.

Victory would be particularly sweet for long-serving goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Runner-up with Juventus in 2003 and 2015, the 39-year-old would love nothing more than to finally get his hands on the Champions League this weekend.

“We have a fantastic opportunity in the palm of our hands,” veteran goalkeeper Buffon said ahead of the match.

“Two brilliant football teams will meet on Saturday.

“We had great conviction in our abilities two years ago and the same is the case this time around. That is all you can ask for.”

Buffon would become the oldest player to win the Champions League if Juventus triumph, overtaking former international team-mate and AC Milan great Paolo Maldini.

That is just one of the many interesting subplots heading into a match that has captured the public’s imagination.

With a packed house set to watch two great teams under the roof, Cardiff should witness a final to remember – one that Bale would love to have a telling impact on.

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