It was not the ending anyone had envisioned for Gianluigi Buffon, the 40-year-old goalkeeping GOAT making one final bid for Champions League glory.
Playing in the second leg of the quarter finals to try and overturn a 0-3 deficit against Real Madrid, the holders and now favourites, Juventus needed to match the heroics of Roma who somehow managed the same feat against Barcelona, and go better than Manchester City who had failed and crashed out 1-5 against Liverpool in this already-classic, free-scoring year of the competition.
They came about as close as it is possible to get.
After Mario Mandžukić scored in the second and 37th minute and Blaise Matuidi made it 3-3 in the 60th, the Old Lady looked destined to take the tie into extra time. And then this happened.
PENALTY!!! #RealMadrid are given a penalty in the final minute of stoppage time as Vazquez gets bundled over by Benatia in the box! Major drama. #Juventus #RMAJUV #RMJuve #UCL pic.twitter.com/vhVGQMKazt— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) April 11, 2018
Mehdi Benatia put his hand on Lucas Vazquez's back in the penalty area in the 98th minute, and Vazquez went down. Was it a definite penalty? As soft as they come? The world - and yer da - was divided.
Unsurprisingly, Gianluigi "Gigi" Buffon knew exactly where he stood. The 1.91m Italian was over to the referee Michael Oliver, blue eyes burning with rage, tousled locks vibrating, meaty gloves cutting and dicing the air inches from the official's face, fanculos falling like volcanic ash cloud...
He got sent off.
In the post-match press conference - after Ronaldo somehow resisted the urge to take his top off before his run up to the penalty that sealed Real's cruel victory - Buffon let rip in the way only a broken-hearted Italian man can.
"A HUMAN BEING CANNOT DESTROY DREAMS LIKE THAT."
"It was a tenth of a penalty," he told Italian TV.
"I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident. Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point.
"The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation.
"Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a bag of rubbish. On top of that, if you don't have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, having your drink and eating crisps.
"You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could've told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating.
"If you can't handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps."
Chips. Crisps. A bag of rubbish in place of a human heart. It was vivid, evocative stuff. But long after the headlines have faded, the cruel fact will remain: Gianluigi Buffon, World Cup winner, UEFA-cup winner, eight times Italian Champion, six times Italian Super Cup winner, four times Italian Cup winner and 10 times goalkeeper of the year has failed to win the one trophy he craved the most.
Call it The Tragedy of Gianluigi Buffon: the loyal, brilliant wild cat between the sticks who, like Zinedine Zidane before him, has bowed out of the highest stage in ignominy.
Will time allow him to gaze with satisfaction upon his mighty medal cabinet? Or will that one, small gap - perhaps filled for just a blink of an eye with Cristiano Ronaldo's jeering chipmunk face - haunt him for the rest of his days?
It's the kind of question only great men - great, sad men like Gigi - can answer.
From: Esquire UK