Gianluigi Buffon’s dream of winning the Champions League ended in a red mist on Wednesday night as Real Madrid – and English referee Michael Oliver – left them incensed and heartbroken.
The legendary goalkeeper, 40, had hoped to finish his career by finally lifting the one major club trophy that has eluded him throughout an illustrious career.
But there is to be no fairytale finale for Buffon, sent off for his wild-eyed protestations after Oliver awarded a stoppage-time penalty for Mehdi Benatia’s challenge on Lucas Vazquez.
Gianluigi Buffon was sent off late in Juventus’ Champions League quarter-final exit to Real
It is the final time the 40-year-old will appear on the top European stage in his career
The veteran Italian was sent off in what will likely be his last Champions League game
Buffon had said that unless Juventus won the Champions League this season, he would put away his gloves. After their quarter-final exit, it looks like the end of the road for Buffon.
But if it’s any consolation for Buffon, he isn’t the only football legend who enjoyed a successful career but failed to win the Champions League.
In fact, we have compiled a whole squad of them.
Let’s start with Buffon. Wednesday night looks likely to be the Italian’s 117th and final appearance in the Champions League, a rather ignominious end to a pursuit of the trophy that has spanned over two decades.
Buffon made his debut in the competition for Parma against Sparta Prague back on September 17, 1997, though obviously has made the bulk of his appearances with Juventus, whom he joined in 2001.
He has appeared in three finals – the 2003 penalty shoot-out defeat to Milan at Old Trafford, the 3-1 defeat by Barcelona in Berlin in 2015 and the 4-1 loss to Real Madrid in Cardiff last season.
After further heartache at the hands of Real, it now appears certain the famous Champions League trophy will elude the legendary keeper.
Buffon walks past the trophy after his third final defeat – to Real Madrid in Cardiff last season
Another man on the scene of Juve’s shoot-out loss to Milan in the 2003 final was the French defender Lilian Thuram.
Although the right-back successfully kept Milan at bay for 120 minutes in what proved a chess match final, misses from his colleagues David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero in the shoot-out left them disappointed.
Like Buffon, he was a part of the Parma team that won the UEFA Cup in 1999, but the top prize would elude him despite 69 outings in it with Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona.
Thuram challenges Clarence Seedorf in Juve’s 2003 Champions League final loss to Milan
The Italian defender played for some of Europe’s finest teams during a long and successful career – but the Champions League manager to elude him.
Indeed, Cannavaro never played in a Champions League final, despite spells at Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid.
The closest he came was reaching the 2002-03 semi-finals with Inter, when they were defeated on ‘away’ goals by city rivals Milan following two incredibly cagey matches.
He too was part of that brilliant Parma side that won the 1999 UEFA Cup.
Fabio Cannavaro (left) was a legendary defender but the Champions League eluded him
One of the finest players to emerge from Germany, Matthaus was a box-to-box midfielder in his pomp before converting to a sweeper later in his career.
It was playing this role that Matthaus came within seconds of winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich in 1999.
Subbed off in the 80th minute of thta final at the Nou Camp, perhaps his defensive presence would have thwarted Manchester United’s stoppage time goals by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Matthaus removed his runners-up medal within seconds of receiving it, probably because he’d suffered similar heartbreak in the 1987 European Cup final, when Porto scored twice late on to deny Bayern.
Bayern were regulars in the knockout stages during his time with the club, but never quite made it and Matthaus had retired by the time of their 2001 triumph.
Lothar Matthaus waves goodbye to the Champions League having not won it in 2000
The clock is ticking for another Juventus player, 33-year-old Giorgio Chiellini, to add the Champions League success that is absent from an otherwise glittering CV.
The Italian defender missed the 2015 final with Barcelona through injury but was powerless to prevent Real Madrid’s 4-1 win in last season’s final.
Wednesday evening is the third time Chiellini has exited the competition at the quarter-final stage though he will hopefully get another few cracks at it.
Chiellini bows out of another Champions League campaign with regrets on Wednesday night
The commanding French midfielder played 76 times in the competition for Arsenal, Juventus and Inter Milan but was another nearly-man.
An integral part of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ side that dominated domestically, he left Highbury to join Juventus a year before the Gunners reached the 2006 Champions League final.
Who knows, maybe Arsenal would have held on and defeated Barcelona in that Paris final had Vieira still been running their midfield.
Ironically, his Juventus team were knocked out by Arsenal in the quarter-finals and that was about as far as he got in the Champions League, a contrast to his successes with France internationally.
He also left Inter Milan for Manchester City mid-way through their successful run in 2009-10 and wasn’t eligible for a medal.
Patrick Vieira proved a nearly-man in the Champions League as the trophy eluded him
93 outings in the Champions League and two finals for Ballack, but unfortunately no winners medal to show for his efforts.
The German midfield dynamo was a key part of the Bayer Leverkusen side that reached the 2002 final, losing 2-1 to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane’s spectacular volley winner.
He had been exceptional throughout that run, as unfancied Leverkusen overcame Liverpool in the quarters and Manchester United in the semis.
And there was further disappointment as a Chelsea player six years later, when John Terry and Nicolas Anelka missed the crucial penalties in a loss to United in Moscow (Ballack did convert his).
Michael Ballack had to made do with the silver medal for the second time in the 2008 final
Perhaps Juventus would have won the 2003 final if midfield genius Pavel Nedved hadn’t been suspended after collecting a late booking in the semi-final with Real Madrid.
That was the closest the Czech came to Champions League success, despite 79 appearances in the competition for Sparta Prague, Lazio and Juventus.
He reached the quarter-finals of the tournament once with Lazio and twice with Juventus aside from 2003, but he couldn’t add to his 1999 European Cup Winners’ Cup success with Lazio on the continental stage.
Pavel Nedved is challenges by Zinedine Zidane during the 2003 Juventus vs Real semi-final
Hernan Crespo’s career CV reads like a who’s who of the great and good of European football – Parma, Lazio, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Milan.
It was during his loan spell at Milan from Chelsea in 2004-05 that Crespo had his agonisingly-close brush with Champions League success.
He scored twice in the first-half of the Istanbul final as Milan surged into a 3-0 half-time lead, only to see them blow it as Liverpool mounted a miraculous comeback to ultimately win on penalties.
The Argentine striker, also part of that seemingly cursed Parma side, lost out in semi-finals when at Inter and Chelsea in the two seasons prior to that Istanbul collapse.
Hernan Crespo scored twice in Milan’s 2005 final with Liverpool, but ultimately lost out
Arguably the most famous nearly-man in the history of the Champions League, Zlatan Ibrahimovic holds the undesirable record of the most appearances (120) without ever lifting the trophy.
He played Champions League football for Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.
Now at Los Angeles Galaxy at the age of 36, the Swede looks destined never to claim this grand prize despite a number of near-misses.
He left Inter for Barca the season before they won the trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2010, eliminating Barca in the semi-finals.
Zlatan then departed Barca for Milan that summer and the Catalan side went on to win it the following year. Talk about frustrating!
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has suffered some frustrating near-misses in his Champions League career
Brazilian star Ronaldo had two World Cup winners medals and a host of domestic silverware in his collection, but success in the Champions League somehow managed to pass him by.
Despite playing in the competition for Inter Milan and Real Madrid, ‘O Fenomeno’ never even graced a Champions League final.
In 2003, when at Real Madrid, he scored a hat-trick against Manchester United in the quarter-final, but then saw his team lose to Juventus in the last four.
David Trezeguet of Juventus celebrates as Ronaldo walks off dejected in the 2003 semi-final
ON THE BENCH
Dennis Bergkamp twice won the UEFA Cup but left Ajax for Inter prior to their Champions League triumph in 1995. He was an unused substitute when Arsenal lost to Barcelona in 2006.
Cesc Fabregas has amassed over 100 appearances in the competition but has never won it. He was on the losing side with Arsenal in that 2006 final and came to Barcelona just after their 2011 win.
One-club man Francesco Totti played 57 times in the Champions League but never advanced beyond the last eight with Roma.
Dutch defensive midfielder Phillip Cocu was three times a semi-finalist – twice with Barcelona and once with PSV Eindhoven – but never made it further.
His compatriot Ruud van Nistelrooy scored a superb 56 goals in 73 Champions League appearances for PSV, Manchester United and Real Madrid but didn’t get past the quarters.
Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal suffers disappointment against Man United in the 2009 semi-finals
19 seasons in the Champions League as manager of Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger didn’t manage to take them all the way.
Of course, the closest he came was in 2006 when they were just 14 minutes away from defeating Barcelona when goals from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti stole the trophy away.
They haven’t reached the final again since then, with one semi-final, two quarter-final and eight last-16 exits.
It was a case of so near, yet so far for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in the 2006 final
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