YOKOHAMA – Real Madrid scored injury-time goals in each half to set up a Club World Cup final showdown with J. League champions Kashima Antlers after a 2-0 win over Mexico’s Club America on Thursday.
Eleven-time European champions Madrid went into the match riding the wave of a club-record 35-game unbeaten run, but newly crowned world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo and his superstar teammates largely failed to sparkle in a flat performance at Nissan Stadium.
French striker Karim Benzema gave Madrid the lead with a first-time shot just seconds before halftime, but the Spaniards could not add any more until Ronaldo struck in the 93rd minute to seal their place in Sunday’s final against surprise package Kashima.
“Winning is very important so I’m very happy about the result,” said Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who was named man of the match.
“The most difficult time for us came about 25 minutes into the match. We needed to get used to the climate here in Japan, and we were a bit tired after the journey. But we scored two goals and won the match, so now we can advance to the final.”
A hum of expectation rose around the 50,117 crowd whenever the ball came to Ronaldo, who on Monday picked up his fourth Ballon d’Or award for the world’s best player.
But it was Benzema who provided the highlight with his clinical first-half strike, leaving Club America to play catch-up for the whole of the second half.
“Everybody knows that our opponents are a very strong team,” said Club America manager Rivardo La Volpe. “Modric and (Toni) Kroos’ movements were very good, but in the first half I believe we controlled the game. It was just during injury time in the first half that I think we lost concentration and conceded the goal.
“We lost a very important opportunity because we could have changed the history of Mexican football. We weren’t able to do that, but we have to accept the result.”
Ronaldo gave the crowd its first taste of his skills when he picked the ball up on the halfway line and set off on a forward run, before trying his luck at goal from a distance that was wildly ambitious even by his standards.
Ronaldo fared little better when he smacked a free kick into the wall in the 23rd minute, but he came closer three minutes later when he hit the post with a header from Lucas Vazquez’s cross.
Silvio Romero hit the side-netting for Club America as the Mexicans took advantage of Madrid’s first-half lethargy, and William da Silva forced a save from Keylor Navas shortly after.
But just when it looked like Madrid might limp into halftime with a whimper, Benzema gave the Spaniards the lead. Kroos played Benzema into space, and the Frenchman lifted a first-time shot over goalkeeper Moises Munoz into the net.
Madrid failed to build on its lead immediately after the interval, however, and a Ronaldo shot that Munoz blocked in the 60th minute was the Europeans’ first meaningful attack of the half.
Ronaldo and Benzema conspired to make a complete mess of an easy headed chance as a second goal continued to evade Madrid. But Ronaldo broke away in the 93rd minute to wrap up the win with a goal that caused some confusion between the referee and video assistant before it was finally given.
“It’s a new system and a new event, and I don’t like it very much,” Modric said of the video referee system, which was also called into action to award Antlers a penalty in their 3-0 semifinal win over Colombia’s Atletico Nacional on Wednesday.
“I think it can cause confusion and it hasn’t been explained to us in detail. I don’t like football with this kind of system. I just want to focus on the match and play my football. My first impression of it is not good.”