By Marcus Christenson
Most of the pre-match attention had focused on whether or not Ronaldo would be fit to play but in the end Real Madrid CF were left ruing the absence of defensive midfield player Claude Makelele as Juventus FC reached the final with a 4-3 aggregate win.
The Frenchman, out with a thigh injury, has this season been asked to provide defensive cover for the foraging attacking midfield players that are Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Guti et al, and on Wednesday night the unenviable task of replacing him against Juventus went to Flavio Conceição.
While the Brazilian enjoyed the support of Esteban Cambiasso in the central area, however, the opening battles went Juventus's way. The Italians, strengthened by the formidable midfield force of Edgar Davids and Alessio Tacchinardi, who were suspended for the first leg in Madrid, started furiously with Davids chopping down Guti inside the first three minutes to state his intent.
Nedved roaming freely
Madrid looked bewildered and failed to cope with the relentless pressure. The home side's efforts were rewarded in the 12th minute when Pavel Nedved broke down the right and sent in the cross from which David Trezeguet shot Juve ahead. Nedved was in inspirational form and did not make life easy for Flavio Conceição and Cambiasso. Starting from behind the two strikers, the Czech international roamed freely, sowing confusion among the organisers in Madrid's defence and midfield.
Buffon saves penalty
Alessandro Del Piero made it 2-0 just before half-time but Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque did not act until the 52nd minute when he sent on Ronaldo in place of Flavio Conceição. Madrid upped the pressure and could have got into the game if Luis Figo had scored from the penalty spot, but Gianluigi Buffon saved his kick and instead Gianluca Zambrotta sent Nedved through to score Juve's third with 17 minutes remaining.
Del Bosque threw on Steve McManaman, and Zinedine Zidane scored a late consolation goal, but in the end Juve's dominance in midfield won them the game. After the game, their coach, Marcello Lippi, praised his team's work ethic: "
I think we saw the best aspects of Juventus tonight, in our capacity and knowledge of how to defend with almost the entire team."
'You have to congratulate Juve'
Del Bosque, meanwhile, will ponder what might have been. Leading up to the game, the coach had considered playing a three-man defence with five in midfield but opted against it at the last minute. It could have helped Madrid gain greater possession in midfield, although Del Bosque acknowledged: "You never know what would have happened if we had played with different tactics and there is no use speculating. You just have to congratulate Juve."
KEY PLAYER: Pavel Nedved
The ubiquitous Czech midfield player set up the first goal from the right and scored the third breaking from the centre of the field. Sadly, he picked up a late booking for a foul on McManaman, his third of the season, which means he will be missing from the final in Manchester.
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