Earlier days offer sudden death, Hugh McIllvanney once wrote, but this is the only one that offers immortality.
The great Scottish journalist was discussing the World Cup final, but the words are also true of the club game’s only real equivalent, the Champions League final.
There is still, however, an oddity to that. While the winners of a European Cup are always remembered, the same has not generally been true of the games in which they have claimed victory.
The finals, as individual matches, have been largely forgettable games of late.
It was an issue perhaps thrown into greater focus last week by the Champions League’s lesser sibling, the Europa League.
Sevilla’s 3-2 win over Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk was the fifth time in the last 15 years that the secondary competition has seen both sides score more than once in the final.
By contrast, and rather remarkably, that has only happened once in the last 51 years of the Champions League: Liverpool’s famous 3-3 with Milan from 2005.
Of course, it is not necessarily a lot of goals that make a memorable game, nor is it much of a surprise that there are fewer strikes in the more prestigious match. The higher stakes create a tension that means it is much less open.
It is still striking, though, how few European Cup finals of the last few decades have ebbed and flowed and pushed emotions in the way true classics do, and that 2005 showpiece did.
The last two were good games but even they almost prove the point, as they seemed to eventually conform to the inevitable. In 2013, there was always a sense that Borussia Dortmund were just about keeping up with Bayern Munich before finally losing grip. In 2014, it seemed a game of two distinct periods: Atletico Madrid just about doing what had made them so successful, until a very late Real Madrid goal saw it all cave in.
Sergio Ramos’ 93rd-minute header was one of the great moments in the competition’s history, but is also part of a trend. Think back to what has been memorable about Champions League finals over the past two decades beyond that 2005 game. There was Manchester United’s sensational last few minutes against Bayern Munich in 1999, Zinedine Zidane’s 2002 volley, John Terry’s 2008 penalty miss, Barcelona’s perfect performances of 2009 and 2011 and Didier Drogba’s last-minute equaliser in 2012.
For the most part, the Champions League final has of late been defined by individual moments and one-sided displays rather than games in and of themselves as a whole. The showpiece has generally been closer to the pragmatic affairs of 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 than the more engaging matches of 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2008.
It does possibly mean that we’re due a classic, but all the characteristics of the two teams probably indicate a game closer to what we’ve seen over the past few years.
For one, there’s the difference in styles. The manner in which Barca are still principally a proactive passing team, and that Juventus still tailor their own game against bigger sides as they did with Real Madrid in the semi-final, suggests a cat-and-mouse match. Secondly, there’s the talent on one side. Given the form that Leo Messi is in, and what he’s been capable of lately, it’s not hard to imagine him offering a moment to rival Zidane’s goal against Bayer Leverkusen.
It all seems a good bet: a controlled Barcelona 2-0 win, again inspired by the brilliance of the Argentine.
Then again, other elements that make a classic are unpredictability and surprise. They can also grant a game immortality.
Read more from Miguel Delaney