Real Madrid took the penultimate step towards crowning a perfect year on the international stage by booking their place in the FIFA Club World Cup final with a 2-0 win against Mexico’s Club América in Yokohama, Japan.
Karim Benzema broke the deadlock in what was becoming a tense semi-final with the CONCACAF champions on the cusp of half-time, latching onto a cutting pass from Toni Kroos and flicking it into the far top corner with the outside of his boot.
Newly crowned Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo capped a solid second-half performance from the European champions with a thumping strike in added time, having headed against the post during the first half.
On Sunday, Madrid will take on Japan’s Kashima Antlers as the 2014 winners attempt to join Corinthians on two Club World Cup titles, one behind last season’s victors Barcelona. Including the old European/South American Cup, which Madrid lifted a joint-record three times, they could become the first team to win the two trophies on a combined five occasions.
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Marcelo; Modrić, Casemiro, Kroos (James Rodríguez 72); Lucas Vázquez, Benzema (Morata 80), Ronaldo.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) December 15, 2016
Man of the match: Luka Modrić
The Croatian’s guiding hand in midfield helped Madrid exert control after an unconvincing start, seamlessly freeing himself from América’s players and killing their attempts to press.
He dictated the tempo in the first half and engineered their frequent counters after the break. Typically, he was at the heart of the move for the decisive opener, calmly sliding the ball to Kroos who then played the pass into Benzema.
Reaction: Zinédine Zidane, Real Madrid coach
“We got what we came for and now we’re in the final. The first half was a bit difficult for us on a hard pitch and we couldn’t move the ball as we wanted, so scoring just before half-time was great. We should then have killed the game sooner, but I’m still happy. We’re professionals, we know the task at hand and we didn’t come here to think about other competitions. We know what we have to do here. We have two days to rest, followed by a vital game on Sunday.”
Who are they facing in Sunday’s final?
Kashima Antlers became the first Asian finalist after stunning Copa Libertadores holders Atlético Nacional of Colombia to win their semi-final 3-0 on Wednesday.
They are the most successful side in Japan’s J-League with eight league crowns and qualified for the Club World Cup as the host country’s national champions, having clinched the 2016 title. Their squad is mostly composed of Japanese players though they do have two Brazilians.
The story in photos …