The last time Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo played at the Olimpiastadion in Berlin, they won the 2006 World Cup, beating France on penalties in the final. Both played a key role: Pirlo scored the first penalty in the shootout; Buffon was an icon of composure throughout. On Saturday, they will return to the same stage, this time looking to win the Champions League for Juventus (2:45 p.m., FOX).
Pirlo has remained a consistent presence at the back of midfield. He is 36 now and what little pace he once had has deserted him, but his capacity to rotate possession and occasionally sling one of those raking passes out to the flanks to alter the course of an attack remains undiminished–or, rather, almost undiminished; there were worrying signs of fallibility at times in that second leg of the semifinal win over Real Madrid.
Still, his pass completion rate remains over 85%, even though an average of 6.9 of those passes per game are defined as “long”–that is, they travel over 30 yards.
It’s true that these days he needs Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba to do the bulk of his running for him, but even in the days of Antonio Conte and his intense pressing, Pirlo was always deemed a luxury worth having.
“The phrase 'We're going to Berlin' always remains in my head,” he said, recalling a song Italian fans sung in 2006. “I hope it can happen again. Is it destiny? I hope so.”
For Pirlo, this will be a fourth Champions League final–the other three with AC Milan: two won, one lost. For Buffon it will be a second: in 2003 he played against Pirlo in Juve’s last final. For both Juventus and Buffon, a lot has happened since.
He had had probably the best season of his career in 2002-03, but that Champions League final was a bitter disappointment. It was 1-1 as Alessandro Nesta stepped up to take Milan’s fourth kick in the penalty shootout, Paolo Montero having just missed Juve’s fourth. Nesta scored and Buffon, he admits, was left demoralized.
“I was convinced that I’d saved it and instead it went in,” Buffon wrote in his autobiography. “I was certain he’d shoot to the left and I dived there. But too early with respect to the ball, which instead had a strange trajectory and surprised me. When [Milan forward Andriy] Shevchenko arrived at the spot for the last penalty, I was already in the dressing room, the adrenaline that had accompanied me until that moment had abandoned me.’
After the game, Buffon stood in a corridor outside the locker room, winding down with a cigarette and, hardly aware he was speaking aloud, asked, “When the f**k will I get another chance like this?”
Juve director Roberto Bettega, a goalscoring legend of the club, happened to be walking past. “At Juventus,” said, “they tend to come along rather a lot.”
But Buffon became consumed by self-doubt, a staggering revelation for somebody who had always seemed so confident: “It was as if my head weren’t my own, but someone else’s: as if it were continually elsewhere.”
His legs would tremble involuntarily and he found himself acting out of character: after Italy’s draw against Denmark at Euro 2004, for instance–“a horrendous game”, as he notes–“I was the only one who smiled.” He began to think that everything in football and around his life was superficial and cited a line supposedly from Marilyn Monroe with which he vehemently disagreed. “Better to cry in a Rolls Royce than on a full tram.”
He wanted for nothing from a material point of view, he said, but slipped into despair because he lacked certain human values. For seven months he was treated by a psychologist for depression.
Buffon stayed when Juventus was relegated as punishment for its part in the calciopoli scandal in 2006, helping the club to immediate promotion. Whatever your thoughts on the validity of the punishment or how Juventus conducts itself generally, it’s fair to say that after four straight scudetti, reaching the Champions League final represents a full recovery.
Buffon, too, has been back to his best this season after a couple of years when his age–he is 37–had seemed to be catching up with him. Nobody doubts that Barcelona is the favorite, but Juve has a sense of destiny about the return to Berlin.
“I'm going back to Berlin after nine years,” Buffon said. “I’m curious to see whether the feelings and sensations will be the same. After nine years–some of which have been really difficult–to come here again and make it with the whole team, the whole staff, the whole club and all our fans, that is just something great and something really rewarding.”
GALLERY: Tifos around the world
Best soccer tifos from around the world
Galatasaray fans display a sensational "Rocky" tifo ahead of their clash against rival Fenerbahce. It didn't inspire a victory, though. The Turkish rivals played to a 0-0 draw.
Borussia Dortmund fans channel their 1963 cup triumph over Benfica ahead of the teams' second leg in the Champions League round of 16 at Signal Iduna Park.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans turn to Moses for tifo inspiration, with his splitting the Red Sea illustrating how "impossible is nothing" in their Europa League series against Besiktas.
Fans of Tunisia's Club Africain display this pointed tifo at a friendly against PSG, whose Qatari owners have pumped millions and millions into the club.
U.S. fans in Columbus, Ohio, make a "One Nation, One Team" statement ahead of the USMNT's World Cup qualifying match against Mexico on November 11, 2016.
Germany fans display their heart for the team colors ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic in October 2016.
Italy fans spell out their support for the Azzurri ahead of a massive World Cup qualifier vs. Spain in October 2018.
Iceland fans keep up their world-famous passion for the national team during a World Cup qualifier against Turkey in October 2016.
Fans in the United Arab Emirates set their sights on reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia during a qualifying match vs. Australia in September 2016.
Colombia fans send a massive jersey around the stadium during a World Cup qualifier vs. Venezuela in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn to Game Of Thrones for inspiration in a game against the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps in September 2016.
Djurgardens fans go all out in Sweden for a match against AIK in September 2016.
Zulte Waregem fans prepare Kortrijk for the absolute worst in this Belgian top-flight match in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn their pop culture reference to Poltergeist in March 2016 ahead of the season home opener against Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers Army doubles down on their Eastbound and Down theme, adding another wrinkle during the club's MLS Western Conference final first leg vs. FC Dallas on November 22, 2015 at Providence Park.
Fans make a French flag tifo at Wembley Stadium during the singing of Le Marseillaise ahead of England's friendly vs. France, which took place days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Timbers Army referenced Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers with their "Cup Bound and Down" tifo for the Portland Timbers' MLS playoff elimination game against Sporting Kansas City on October 29, 2015.
Brondby IF fans display a gladiator holding up a lion's head during the team's Danish Alka Superliga match against FC Copenhagen, whose logo is a lion's head, on September 27, 2015.
New England Revolution fans equate Jermaine Jones to Indiana Jones on their quest to capture the 2015 MLS Cup on September 26, 2015.
New England Revolution fans display a Lion King theme in honor of Orlando City FC's first visit to Gillette Stadium on September 5, 2015.
Red Bulls fans take a shot at NYCFC's two summer arrivals, 37-year-old Frank Lampard and 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo, ahead of their third MLS meeting of 2015.
Germany fans in Cologne salute their World Cup champions ahead of a friendly against the United States in June, 2015.
Real Madrid fans went all out prior to the second leg of the 2014-15 Champions League semifinal vs. Juventus.
Lazio fans display a stunning eagle tifo ahead of the Rome derby against AS Roma in their penultimate Serie A match of the 2014-15 season.
Barcelona fans bid farewell to veteran midfielder Xavi with this banner at his last league game at Camp Nou before he departs for Qatari club Al Sadd.
Fans at Anfield pay tribute to Steven Gerrard in his final home match as a Liverpool player in May 2015.
Juventus fans state their case to beat Real Madrid in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals and reach the final in Berlin.
Fans at Benfica's Estadio da Luz remind rival Porto who the Primeira Liga reigning champion is during an April 2015 match in Portugal.
New York Red Bulls fans send a pointed message to their NYCFC counterparts prior to the teams' first MLS meeting in May, 2015.
Inter Milan's Curva Nord announces its presence ahead of the April 2015 Derby della Madonnina–the annual clashes between city rivals Inter and AC Milan.
Bayern Munich fans implore their club to (translated) "Never give up" in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Porto. Bayern then turned a 3-1 first-leg deficit into a 7-4 aggregate win and a place in the semifinals.
Dortmund fans commemorate their 1997 Champions League trophy in the club's clash vs. Juventus–the opponent on the wrong side of that title bout.
Portland Timbers fans speak out against homophobia with this tifo in a 2013 match against Chivas USA
Atletico's supporters display a banner reading "Atleti crushes" before the Spanish league match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid,
Borussia Dortmund fans put on a remarkable display ahead of a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match.
Brondby IF fans unveil a tifo ahead of a match in Denmark against Randers FC.
FC Barcelona fans display a huge banner in memory of former head coach Tito Vilanova.
Galatasaray fans support their team during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
The American Outlaws unveil a huge tifo ahead of a 2014 World Cup send-off match between the USA and Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Marseille's supporters use paper sheets to create an "OM" (Olympique de Marseille) tifo at the beginning of the French L1 football match between Marseille and Genoble.
Seattle Sounders fans display their tifo that shows coach Sigi Schmid playing cards and holding a Royal Flush before a match against the Portland Timbers.
Panathinaikos Athens fans display a banner during the UEFA Europa League match against Dynamo Moscow.
Fans of the Saudi Al-Hilal team celebrate after the scoring of a goal against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor.
Seattle Sounders fans unveil a tifo inspired from the “Build a Bonfire” chant, featuring Sounder players holding torches on horseback ahead of a game against the Portland Timbers.
Fans of Hertha BSC before the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen in Berlin.
Sporting Kansas City fans channel their inner Mario ahead of the 2013 MLS Cup final vs. Real Salt Lake.
Brondby IF fans.
Thousands of Barcelona fans hold up cards to spell out "Barca! Orgull," which translates to "Barcelona pride" ahead of a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich at Camp Nou.
Fans raise a tifo celebrating “Community, Club and Country” ahead of a CONCACAF Gold Cup match between the USA and Belize in Portland, Oregon.
Vitesse fans unfurl a massive Eagle banner at the Dutch Eredivisie match against Ajax at the GelreDome.
Valencia fans drape a banner featuring a king for a Copa del Rey ("The King's Cup) match against Atletico Madrid.
Juventus fans make a statement in Turin in a match vs. Inter Milan.
Dortmund fans put on another strong display at a Bundesliga match against Mainz 05.
German fans boast the newest star earned by the national team, symbolizing its 2014 World Cup triumph, at a Euro 2016 qualifying match in Dortmund.
Real Madrid fans make a point to display the club's 10 European championships ahead of the October 2014 clash against rival Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
San Jose Earthquakes fans unleash a massive tifo to mark the opening of Avaya Stadium, MLS's newest soccer-specific venue, in March 2015.
Barcelona fans show all who the real 12th man is ahead of the March 2015 Clásico vs. Real Madrid.
Ahead of a clash with Mexican foe Monterrey, Tigres players are treated by this message by its fervent supporters.
Standard Liege fans have a pointed message for Steven Defour, who departed the club for Belgian rival Anderlecht.
Orlando City fans mark their club's inaugural MLS game vs. fellow expansion side New York City FC with a statement that the Lions' "reign begins now."
Real Madrid fans salute Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo after he captured the most prestigious individual prize in world soccer again.
Vitesse fans pay homage to Operation Market Garden ahead of an Eredivisie match against SC Heerenveen.
Sevilla's fans deploy a giant banner in the stands before the UEFA Europa league final match between Benfica and Sevilla.
Fans in Liverpool’s Kop End at Anfield commemorate those lost in the Hillsborough disaster.
Lyon fans during a game against Saint Etienne.