Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianluigi Buffon star in UCL Team of the Semifinals
With the Champions League semifinals done and dusted, it's time to look at the best XI ...
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
What more can be said about the remarkable Buffon? He came through at the most important moments for Juventus in what was ultimately a comfortable win over Monaco. In the first leg -- his 100th Champions League appearance -- he made crucial saves from Kylian Mbappe and Radamel Falcao while the game was still in the balance; in the second his astute overhead throw began the attack that brought Mario Mandzukic's goal. Buffon is so sharp, alert and composed -- and now has the chance of a first victory in the final that would crown a remarkable career.
Right-back: Dani Alves (Juventus)
Over the two legs, Alves produced what might be described as a best-of compilation. He turned 34 on Saturday, and there was something of a throwback about the way, galloping up and down the flank, he managed to dictate proceedings in both matches having been licence to create as a wing-back. The two assists in Monaco were sumptuous; the delivery for Mandzukic a week later was equally important and the thudding volley he provided after that was the icing on the cake.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
As his teammates filed down the tunnel at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, Ramos was the last Real Madrid player off the pitch -- making sure to congratulate every one of his opponents on their performance. But Ramos himself had been influential throughout the semifinal, preventing Atletico's attackers from breaking through on a number of occasions in the second leg and heading away several set-pieces. He came up strong when needed the most.
Centre-back: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
Juventus did not quite keep the clean sheet they would have liked across the 180 minutes, and were at times stretched more than at any point in this Champions League campaign, but less experienced defences might have buckled against such lively and creative opponents. Instead, Chiellini and his teammates -- Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli made up the rest of their back three -- were their usual rock-solid, uncompromising selves. There is no better defensive unit on the continent.
Left-back: Alex Sandro (Juventus)
It was Sandro who, receiving the ball from Buffon and with space opening up on the left, did much of the work that led to Alves teeing up Mandzukic to open the scoring in Turin. The Brazil international did not quite have his compatriot's explosive impact over the two games, but he was still a persistent threat going forward at wing-back and helped Juventus take the initiative against a side that can be devastating down the flanks.
Centre-midfield: Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
Modric was impressive in the first leg but perhaps it was what he did in the second that mattered most. Real were on the rack for 25 minutes against their resurgent opponents, but as soon as the Croatia international got a grip on the midfield everything changed. His composure, positioning and passing range were integral in calming things down and for the final hour of the game he was head and shoulders above anybody else on the pitch. On an occasion that needed experience and quality to shine through, Modric delivered brilliantly.
Centre-midfield: Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)
For a while it seemed as if Saul's thumping near-post header had set a stunning turnaround in motion at the Calderon. He and his Atletico Madrid teammates had not done themselves justice in the first leg, but this time around they were tenacious, fearless and full of quality -- even if they eventually fell well short. Saul was excellent in an Atletico engine room that took the initiative early on; having also scored in the quarterfinal against Leicester and in last year's semi against Bayern Munich, he is eking out a reputation as a man with a sense of occasion.
Attacking midfield: Isco (Real Madrid)
Just as Real needed the class of Modric to steady themselves, they were indebted to Isco in more ways than one. His intelligent running between the lines began to trouble Atletico as the first half went on, and a couple of mazy runs with the ball relieved pressure at key moments. Then came his finish, an alert stab past Jan Oblak after the goalkeeper had made a save, and it was ultimately the contribution that rubber-stamped Real's place in Cardiff.
Right-wing: Kylian Mbappe (Monaco)
Nobody could dispute that, for his endeavours over the tie, Mbappe richly deserved the goal he eventually put past Buffon. He was also due the embrace he received from the opposing goalkeeper afterwards; Buffon knows just how good a player the 18-year-old is and against a lesser custodian Mbappe might even have given Monaco a first-leg lead. He also hit the post early on in the second leg; had that chance gone in then the tie would have been truly alive, but Mbappe had kept Juventus's experienced defence honest for its duration.
Left-wing: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Save for a couple of second-half runs and a free kick that Jan Oblak saved, Ronaldo was quiet on Wednesday. But it hardly mattered: his hat trick eight days previously had already given Real a foot in the final and proved yet again that there are few who have ever been as decisive at this level. A header, a thumping finish and a calm sidefooter gave Real their three-goal cushion and also showed that, even if some of the old speed is disappearing, he still has a peerless eye for goal.
Centre-forward: Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus)
Higuain has been labeled a flat-track bully at some points in his career, but the two first-leg goals he scored in Monaco effectively settled the tie. Both were clinical finishes and, while he missed some presentable opportunities in Turin, the damage had already been done. It is hard to think of two more important goals the striker has scored and he now has the chance to net the biggest of them all in Cardiff.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.