A look at the top 11 players who led Juventus to Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid:
GIANLUIGI BUFFON: The evergreen keeper is still pulling off fantastic saves at the age of 39, making a fantastic stop to deny Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta in the quarterfinals and keeping Monaco’s attack mainly at bay in the semifinals. The Juventus and Italy captain has won almost every title in the game, including the World Cup in 2006, but the Champions League is one of the few trophies missing from his collection.
ANDREA BARZAGLI: An integral part of Juventus’ famed ‘BBC defense’ along with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, Barzagli helped put on a defensive masterclass to shut out Barcelona over the 180 minutes of their Champions League quarterfinal. At 36, Barzagli is the oldest of the three, but the World Cup winner is still regarded as one of the best and most consistent defenders of his generation.
LEONARDO BONUCCI: With 93 appearances, more than any other player – including captain Gianluigi Buffon, he has been an ever-present for Juventus over the past two seasons. The 30-year-old Italy international is also regarded as one of the best ball-playing defenders in world football, showing his skills with a stunning goal against Genoa recently, going on a mazy run from inside his own half.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI: Physically strong and aggressive, Chiellini is one of the old-school defenders. Softly spoken off the pitch, he has earned a reputation on it as a tough, no-nonsense center back, who goes into tackles with no fear. He has broken his nose four times. A cornerstone of the Juventus back line since joining in 2005, his height makes him a threat at set pieces in the opposition’s penalty area.
DANI ALVES: Described as past his best when he joined from Barcelona on a free transfer last June, the 34-year-old Alves was often mocked during the season. However, he has gradually proved his critics wrong, culminating in a man-of-the-match performance in the second leg of the semifinal against Monaco, scoring one goal and making the other. He won the Champions League three times with Barcelona.
ALEX SANDRO: He may not get the headlines, but Sandro’s solid performances and playing style have seen him compared to former Brazil star Roberto Carlos. A very attack-minded full-back, he can play anywhere on the left flank and his performances for Juventus have drawn interest from other top European sides. A powerful runner, he can beat opponents one-on-one and helps create chances.
SAMI KHEDIRA: His recovery from a leg injury has given Juventus a timely fitness boost ahead of the final against his former club. Khedira played more than 150 matches for Real Madrid in five seasons in Spain, helping it to the Champions League title in 2014. The Germany World Cup winner joined Juventus on a free transfer in 2015 and has been indispensable this season after previously struggling with injuries.
MIRALEM PJANIC: Pjanic struggled to fit in during the first half of the campaign, after transferring from Roma in the offseason for 32 million euros ($36 million), but the Bosnia and Herzegovina midfielder has slowly adapted to life at Juventus. The 27-year-old Pjanic is also one of the best free kick specialists in the world, and has both scored and set up goals for others from dead-ball situations.
The striker will hope for a repeat of the 2013 final, when he scored the opening goal to set Bayern Munich on its way to a 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund. Having joined from Atletico Madrid in 2015, the 31-year-old Croatia forward has dropped into a deeper role recently at Juventus because of his ability to hold up the ball. But he is also a key target man thanks to his height, physical strength and aerial prowess.
PAULO DYBALA: Since joining from Palermo for 32 million euros (then $36 million) in 2015, Dybala has had a fantastic two years at Juventus – and this season has made an impact on the international stage, earning comparisons with compatriot Lionel Messi. The 23-year-old Dybala signed a new contract in April, tying him to the Bianconeri until 2022, a deal that came days after he netted two goals in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona.
Signed from Napoli for an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million), there were question marks over Higuain as he appeared to be overweight at the start of the season. But despite being less of a focal point than he was at Napoli, Higuain has nevertheless netted 24 league goals and five in the Champions League, as well as three in the Italian Cup.
More AP Champions League coverage: http://apne.ws/2lgcPZm