Just two years on from their last appearance, Juventus have once again reached the Champions League final. The Bianconeri have made no secret of their desire to win European football’s premier competition, believing that it would see them become an established force among the continent’s elite sides, while simultaneously validating the superiority they have shown domestically.
At home they have smashed record after record over the past six seasons, going an entire campaign undefeated, setting a new benchmark after earning 102 points in 2013/14, and becoming the first Italian side to ever win six consecutive league titles, as well as the first to lift the Coppa Italia three times in a row.
Make no mistake, this team is already one for the ages, but in Cardiff on Saturday they have a chance to truly etch their names into the history books. The nagging feeling that Juventus struggle in finals is never too far away, the Bianconeri having finished as runners-up in their last four trips to UEFA’s biggest fixture.
The same is perhaps true of the man now wearing the Old Lady’s No.9 shirt. Gonzalo Higuain has won countless honours throughout his career, helping Real Madrid claim three La Liga titles, firing Napoli to a Coppa Italia triumph and now becoming a vital part of the Juventus side who recently secured another league-and-cup double.
He too has broken records, his 36 goals last term the most ever scored in a single Serie A season, while he has now found the back of the net over 200 times since moving to Europe back in 2006.
However, he will also head to Wales looking to shred a reputation for choking when silverware is on the line. Higuain’s misses in the World Cup and Copa America finals marked him out as a player who cannot cope with the pressure of big games.
Juventus clearly believe he can. Simply put, they did not spend €90 million to sign him from Napoli to simply win trophies they were already winning without him. The Turin giants believed that the Argentinian star – along with Miralem Pjanić and Dani Alves – could make the difference in the Champions League, and so far that has proven to be the case.
Higuain has shone in Juve’s most high-profile matches, netting against bitter rivals Fiorentina and Torino, scoring four times in four encounters with his former club and emphatically opening the scoring in their European semi-final triumph over Monaco.
The latter clearly meant a lot to him, the 29-year-old vaulting the advertising hoardings at the Stade Louis II to celebrate in front of Juve’s travelling supporters. The emotional outburst showed that Higuain knows he is wearing the black and white stripes in order to score in exactly those moments.
“I agree, without doubt the time has come. We’ve all been working for this, hopefully our efforts will be rewarded with victory,” Higuain told Mediaset earlier this week. “I came here to win. Right now we’re doing well, we’ve won two competitions and we hope to win another in a few days.”
All season long he has produced in ways he never has before. Of course there have been goals – 32 in all competitions – but he has also worked to ensure he is worthy of regularly inclusion, pressing opposition defenders hard whenever Juve lose the ball. Mario Mandzukic gets a lot of credit for his effort in making Max Allegri’s shift to 4-2-3-1 so effective, but Higuain has done much more defensively than at any previous point in his career.
“Maybe he’ll score in the final. He must be very calm and have the right game, like he’s done so far,” the coach told reporters on Monday, before going on to praise the striker’s performances against Monaco and Barcelona.
Allegri noted that Higuain did not score against the latter and has repeatedly highlighted the effort the club’s most expensive signing has made in games where he has not found the net, but there is no doubt that the striker would love to strike the decisive blow in Cardiff.
In doing so Higuain would not only help Juventus lift European football’s most prestigious trophy, he would also slay the dragon for both himself and the Old Lady by delivering when it matters most.