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So this is it? This is how Gianluigi Buffon’s Champions League career ends? This is how one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, if not the greatest, says goodbye to Europe?
With a red card following two eminently questionable transgressions? One of his own making and one beyond it?
To start, Buffon didn’t even commit the penalty (term used loosely) that led to Real Madrid’s last-gasp 4-3 aggregate escape from Juventus on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. That was Medhi Benatia, and his contact with Real Madrid’s Lucas Vázquez was so minimal a fly would hardly feel it.
Yes, Benatia extended his arms and put them on Vázquez’s back. (Frankly, that’s the most generous reading of the situation.) He also wrapped his left leg around Vázquez, but he barely impeded the attacker while making a clear attempt to play the ball.
In any case, the referee blew his whistle in one of the biggest possible spots and signaled a penalty, which sent Buffon into infuriated remonstrating. After the referee produced the red card, it sent Buffon into more. In general, that’s not OK; soccer has long struggled with players swarming referees and crossing the line when it comes to complaining about calls.
Still, barring physical contact, it’s tolerated. And not just in the Champions League, but also in the Premier League, where the referee in question, Michael Oliver, not only plies his trade but is regarded a top-of-the-line official.
You be the judge. Of all of it:
So it begs the question: Why was Oliver so quick to show red to Buffon on Wednesday? Could it have been something Buffon said? That’s a nebulous area where the referee typically deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Yet it still seems odd that he barreled past all the caution signposts and pulled a straight red of his pocket. Certainly he’s heard worse language in the Premier League? And regardless of how one feels about the protestations, Oliver’s decision brought a screeching halt to what had been an inspiring performance on the day by Juventus.
It’s not that the Italian giants had outclassed Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on balance, it’s that they had given the kind of spirited, aggressive performance that usually yields positive results and, at the very least, a couple breaks. Mario Mandzukic’s first-half double and Blaise Matuidi’s 60th-minute goal looked to have Juve on the way to extra time, and who knows what happens from there?
Well, we know what happened now. Cristiano Ronaldo slammed home the penalty kick to push two-time defending champion Real Madrid into the Champions League semifinals, and sent Juventus back to Turin wondering how it all unspooled so quickly.
In all likelihood, this means Buffon will retire without a Champions League title. It’s the one glaring hole in his all-time great resume. Buffon has won the World Cup, Serie A, the Coppa Italia and so many individual awards he’d need a mansion’s worth of trophy cases just to house them.
But he’s 40 years old and has considered retirement in recent years, not to mention he’s already hung up his international boots and has a keeper-in-waiting at Juve in Wojciech Szczesny.
It just goes to show, winning the Champions League is usually as much about fortune as it is form, at least when it comes to the very best clubs in the world. Juventus has been one of those for a long time.
Fortune wasn’t on the Old Lady’s side on Wednesday. It wasn’t on the old man’s, either.