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Buffon and Ter Stegen are the rocks at the heart of Juventus and Barcelona

As Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen clasp hands in Berlin on Sunday for the traditional show of solidarity before a big game, the wonder is whether they will talk about the one piece of common ground between them, beyond the fact they're gracing a stage like the Champions League final.

They're not just at opposite ends of the pitch; they're at opposite ends of their careers, with totally opposing circumstances. It's difficult to think of a contrast between two Champions League final goalkeepers more pronounced than this one. It may yet condition this fixture between Barcelona and Juventus, especially when you consider how they've both dealt with those differences.

One is among the greatest goalkeepers of all time; the other merely a promising talent. One is a veteran at 37 and at the age when most are considered a little old for the role at a top club. The other is just 23 and considered a bit too young for that same role.

One has been a fixture between the posts for all his teams going as far back as 1996; the other can't get regular football for his current club.

One is returning to the stadium where he enjoyed his greatest moment in winning the 2006 World Cup, while the other is playing on first truly high-profile stage of his career.

In reaching Berlin's Olympic Stadium, however, both have had big moments.

Buffon managed one of this Champions League season's most significant saves in Juventus' home quarterfinal first leg against Monaco, somehow preventing Ferreira Carrasco from what seemed a certain away goal at a tight point in the tie.

Ter Stegen then managed a series of similar stops in Barca's semifinal second leg against Bayern Munich, preventing a comfortable situation from becoming a bit more severe.

Those displays are not the true parallel between the goalkeepers, even if a deep difference underscores that too.

What is most remarkable is how both have maintained that level, despite situations that tend to mitigate against that kind of performance. Buffon is at the age when the majority of players enter rapid decline, while Ter Stegen doesn't get the regular football that has traditionally been viewed as essential for a goalkeeper.

The magnificence of Buffon's career was most emphasised by the contrasts of the semifinal against Real Madrid. For the majority of the past 15 years, he and Iker Casillas have been considered the world's best two goalkeepers. They have been at the very to, and maintained top form for longer than even the likes of Petr Cech.

Only Buffon has stayed there, though. While the younger Casillas seemed to lose his edge almost immediately after winning the 2010 World Cup, that hasn't been the case with the Italian. His drive and sharpness have never died, and this has arguably been one of his finest-ever seasons.

It's certainly difficult to think of a single moment when he has made the kind of error that has become so characteristic with Casillas. By contrast, you only see the ferocious concentration on Buffon's face. He just remains utterly dependable and assured.

It is all the more remarkable given the distractions he has had to dismiss. He decided to stay with Juventus when they were relegated in 2006 after the Calciopoli scandal, which came just weeks after his win with Italy in the World Cup, meaning he is also going from Berlin to Serie B to Berlin again.

Youth vs. experience as Ter Stegen faces Buffon.

Throughout it all, the focus has never faded. He has only become more determined, and it has made him a defining leader. Buffon is never satisfied, always setting an ever-higher standard. That was most evident this season when he severely admonished his teammates for the 2-2 draw with lowly Cesena.

Of course, that edge has been enhanced this season because Buffon is in sight of the one major trophy his career is missing: the Champions League. That sense of completeness would be apt because he has also become the complete goalkeeper. Buffon is not one of those No. 1s only willing to react and respond, as Casillas has arguably become. He spots danger before it happens and takes command of his area. His role goes beyond just keeping the ball out.

That could be all the more important given the pummelling Juventus are likely to suffer at the feet of that stellar Barcelona attack.

In that event, Ter Stegen is almost certain to be the quieter goalkeeper, and one who will have to react to danger out of long spells of idleness, but then he's well used to that.

The German has yet to play in a league game for Barcelona since signing from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer, but he is their designated cup goalkeeper. To rotate the him and Claudio Bravo in that way runs contrary to the customary way goalkeepers maintain their sharpness, and Ter Stegen admitted recently that it is difficult "not playing with a weekly rhythm."

You wouldn't have guessed it from his fine recent performances, although that may also be because the nature of the modern goalkeeper is changing from the old traditions that even Buffon is used to. Those around Barca say their goalkeepers are now more involved in general team training and not apart from the group in the way they used to be. That maintains a different type of sharpness and mental freshness.

"It's not easy when you're not in the rhythm but I'm playing in the Champions League so I don't lose it," Ter Stegen said recently. "I'm happy with the situation."

The oddity is that it's also a situation that is far from alien to the Champions League final. Many of the most famous goalkeeping performances have come from those who were not regulars. Casillas came off the bench for Real in 2002 against Bayer Leverkusen to produce a heroic display, and Bodo Illgner reclaimed his place in goal for the Spanish side shortly before they beat Juventus in 1998.

Perhaps the most famous is Nigel Spink, who had barely played for Aston Villa in his five years there before the 1982 final against Bayern Munich, but came on after eight minutes for the injured Jimmy Rimmer and proceeded to give one of the greatest goalkeeping performances the competition had ever seen.

"If we were playing until today we would not score any goal," Bayern's Paul Breitner recently told ESPN FC.

Buffon may need to be against the likes of Lionel Messi, while Ter Stegen may have to replicate the Villa keeper in another way.

It could be the difference.

Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.


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