CARDIFF, Wales — The prospect of Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale, back in his homeland’s capital to put Juventus to the sword in the Champions League final, was the perfect script.

But while the top club competition in international soccer has a habit of providing alluring story lines, the romance in Saturday’s match is likely to come from elsewhere. The mundane impact of injury means Bale will start on the bench for the Spanish champion.

So, for those neutrals who love a feel-good story, perhaps it could come from the other side.

Gianluigi Buffon, 39 and widely viewed as the finest goalkeeper of his generation, has what could be the last chance to add the medal that has eluded him throughout his outstanding career.

With Juventus he has won the Italian league eight times. For the national team, under the guidance of his former Juventus coach Marcello Lippi, he won the World Cup in 2006, defeating France in the final in Berlin after Zidane was sent off for his infamous head-butt of Marco Materazzi.

But in the Champions League, Buffon has only two runners-up medals to his name — losing to AC Milan on penalties in Manchester in 2003 and against Barcelona in Berlin two years ago.

“Winning would be the right end to a fairy tale and people like fairy tales,” Buffon said on Friday, admitting that he still felt “like a kid” ahead of such a huge final.

Few outside of Madrid would begrudge Buffon a final moment of glory before he hangs up his gloves. Plenty of players who have expressed just that sentiment in the buildup to the final. “I want them to do it for Gigi Buffon,” former Barcelona midfielder Xavi said.

Zidane’s former France teammate, ex-Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit shared the sentiment.

“I love him. He’s such a great example to the younger generation. How he handles himself as a player and a person.

“To me he’s one of the greats, like Xavi, Iniesta, Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, those who you never hear from, they let their football do the talking. Then when they do talk, they are intelligent, educated and speak with a pure love of football. This is why I want Juventus to win for Buffon.”

Buffon’s lack of success in the Champions League, is however mirrored by his club. While Juve has enjoyed years of domestic dominance — 33 Serie A titles including the last six — its eight appearances in European Cup or Champions League finals have brought only two wins, in 1985 and 1996.

Juventus will again be the underdog against Real Madrid, which boasts two of the last three Champions League title and a local hero in Bale, who a year ago led Wales on a thrilling run to the semifinals of the European Championship. He appears bound to be a reserve on Saturday. The 27-year-old has not played since injuring his calf against Barcelona on April 23 and although he has declared himself fit, the sense among Spanish observers is that Coach Zinedine Zidane appears likely to stick with his replacement, Isco, against the Italians.

Earlier this week Bale acknowledged that he was not 100 percent fit at the end of an injury-plagued season that also included being sidelined for three months after ankle surgery in November. “If I’m called upon to start, I will start, obviously. But to last 90 minutes — I haven’t played a lot of football this year since my operation, so that would be difficult,” he said.

Those comments were viewed, in the always intense debates of Spanish soccer, as Bale taking the sting out of the argument over whether he or Isco should start and making it easier for Zidane to leave him on the bench.

The potential is still there, of course, for the former Tottenham midfielder to come off the bench and deliver the decisive blow at Principality Stadium.

Yet there is a sense that this year’s Juventus is capable of breaking through. The Turin side combines a traditional Italian tight defense and tactical discipline with an attacking verve that makes it a real threat going forward. But it also appears to have an ingredient Italian clubs have lacked in recent years: belief.

“Two finals in three years is an important step but it is not enough,” Coach Massimiliano Allegri said Friday. “In 2015 we got to the final and deserved it, but perhaps we didn’t feel confident enough because we had come out of a number of years of struggling in the Champions League. We didn’t expect to win but now it is different.

“Yes, Juve have played eight finals and lost six, but that just shows that in a final anything can happen.”

The bookmakers justifiably favor Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. to retain the trophy, but the Bianconeri should push them hard and Allegri hopes they will have a bit of the devil in them when it matters.

“We have to have the belief that we can bring that Cup home and we have to be fiendish to strike when Real offer us an opening.”

Simon Evans is a Reuters soccer correspondent based in Northern England.