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Champions League final and flying full-backs

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Champions League final and flying full-backs
Marcelo celebrates with Isco and Rodriguez

Among the many reasons to believe Saturday’s Champions League final in Cardiff might be a classic is the presence of two of the greatest attacking full-backs in the history of the game.

Not since Roberto Carlos and Cafu have Brazil boasted a better attacking pair than Marcelo and Dani Alves and after years of being either side of the Clasico divide in Spain they now find themselves as rivals once more with the European Cup at stake.

“Marcelo versus Dani Alves is a classic, a battle of giants,” Cafu told dpa.

Marcelo scored three times and gave 11 assists this season as Real Madrid’s left flank was once again their most important attacking outlet.

Ten years on from signing as a 19-year-old he now has legend status at the club having become one of the captains and the foreign player who has won most games for the club in La Liga passing Roberto Carlos’ record of 211.

Marcelo passed his illustrious predecessor’s record playing 80 fewer games and he has won 14 trophies in the process with four leagues; two Champions Leagues; two World Club Cups; two Super Cups of Spain; two European Super Cups and two Copas del Rey among the medals haul.

For trophy collectors no-one beats Alves however.

The 34-year-old right-back gears up for his 100th Champions League game, having already won the competition three times with Barcelona – his latest success came by beating Juve 3-1 in 2015 as the Bianconeri lost the sixth of their eight finals.

After moving to Turin  last June as a free agent after eight seasons with Barca he has gradually became a hero to the club’s supporters.

When goalkeeping captain Gianluigi Buffon welcomed him at the Vinovo camp, he seemed to feel that the Brazilian could be crucial in the continental campaign.

“I asked Dani Alves to help us, above all us older members of the team, to achieve the dream we are still chasing and help us push the bar a little higher,” the 39-year-old Buffon said at the start of the Serie A season in August.

“He is rather accustomed to certain targets and victories, so I think that his experience can really help us.”

While fitting into Juve’s tactics, Alves fractured his left fibula in Serie A action in late November and returned in February, when he came off the bench to seal a 2-0 defeat of Porto as the elite event entered its knock-out stage.

He then played all the five games leading to the final, shining in the 3-0 aggregate defeat of Barca, and hugging his former team-mate Neymar, who was in tears after the scoreless return leg in Spain.

The 4-1 elimination of Monaco in the semi-finals saw Alves drill home a smashing long-range volley and provide three assists, proving to fully deserve his international reputation.

“We have a final to play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, it only matters what we can achieve with this team now.

We have more confidence [than Juve’s runners-up of 2015] and we will go there [in Cardiff] to win.”

As Juve seek a historic treble after already lifting this season’s domestic title and cup, Alves looks to improve his record tally of 26 titles, as credited by UEFA. And counting only international club trophies won with Sevilla and Barca, he has one more than Juve’s 11.

Both players have the pedigree to suggest that when the ball starts rolling on Saturday it will not necessarily be the forwards who decide the destiny of the final.

 

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