YOKOHAMA – Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick as Real Madrid shook off a monumental effort from Kashima Antlers to lift the Club World Cup with a 4-2 extra-time win in Sunday’s final.
Eleven-time European champion Madrid went into the match at Nissan Stadium as the overwhelming favorite to win its second world title in two years, against a Kashima side that qualified for the tournament as J. League champions and had played three games at the tournament already.
Madrid looked set for a comfortable night when Karim Benzema gave the Spaniards the lead in the ninth minute, but Gaku Shibasaki equalized for Kashima one minute before halftime before the same player added a stunning second seven minutes after the interval.
World player of the year Ronaldo brought Madrid back level from the penalty spot eight minutes later, and both teams continued to create chances as a tension-drenched match moved into extra time.
But Ronaldo ended Antlers’ resistance with two more goals in the first extra period, and Madrid saw out the match to lift the trophy and keep alive its hopes of an unprecedented season quadruple of Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Champions League and Club World Cup.
“Madre mia,” said Ronaldo, who earlier this week won his fourth Ballon d’Or award for the world’s best player. “It was a really difficult game but then it’s difficult to win a final. We wanted to finish the year on a high and I’m glad that we were able to do that.
“I’m overjoyed, it’s like a dream. I never predicted that I would be able to score a hat trick in the Club World Cup final. I won the Ballon d’Or at the start of this week and it really has been a perfect year.”
Antlers gave Spanish aristocrats Madrid all kinds of problems over 120 breathless minutes, and manager Masatada Ishii was proud of his players’ efforts after becoming the first Asian team to reach the final
“We were able to hold our own against Real Madrid for 120 minutes and I’m very thankful to my players for that,” said Ishii. “We had good moments and also some things that weren’t good, and we have a lot of things to work on from now on. We have to try to maintain this level.”
Ishii deemed star player Mu Kanazaki fit enough to make his first start of the tournament, while Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos also made his first appearance after missing Thursday’s 2-0 semifinal win over Club America.
Antlers immediately began snapping into tackles and trying to stop Madrid from settling into its rhythm, but the Spaniards took the wind out of Kashima’s sails with the opening goal in the ninth minute.
Luka Modric thumped a shot that goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata could only parry, and Benzema was right on the spot to turn home the rebound.
Mitsuo Ogasawara lashed a shot narrowly over the bar as Antlers hit straight back, and Yasushi Endo also tried his luck with the J. League champions enjoying a period of dominance.
Madrid gradually began to wrest back control, and Kashima had Sogahata to thank for stopping shots from Benzema and Modric late in the first half.
But with just one minute go until halftime, Antlers grabbed a lifeline. Shoma Doi sent in a cross that Shibasaki controlled with one touch, then turned to lash the ball past diving goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Seven minutes after the restart, Shibasaki put Antlers in dreamland. The 24-year-old picked up the ball on the edge of the box surrounded by four Madrid defenders, wriggled into space on the left, then cracked a shot past Navas to put the Japanese side in front.
The lead did not last long. Shuto Yamamoto tripped Lucas Vazquez in the Kashima box, and Ronaldo drilled his penalty low to the left past Sogahata’s reach.
The equalizer sparked a period of sustained Madrid pressure, with Ronaldo, Ramos and Marcelo all going close within the space of five minutes.
Ramos should have been sent off after somehow escaping a second booking for a foul on Kanazaki, but Kashima ended the 90 minutes looking far more likely to score and Endo blazed a golden chance wide with the last kick of regulation time.
The miss would come back to haunt Antlers when Ronaldo gave Madrid the lead two minutes into extra time. Benzema slipped the ball through into space in the penalty box, and Ronaldo latched onto it to fire a clinical shot past Sogahata.
Substitute Yuma Suzuki cracked a header against the crossbar as Antlers refused to lie down, but Ronaldo struck again minutes later to finally send Madrid clear.
“We didn’t win so it’s frustrating,” said Shibasaki. “We had chances to win. Our opponent’s quality was the difference in extra time and we dropped off, so that’s something to learn from this.
“It’s been a good tournament for us. It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to win it, but the challenge now is to get back to a position where we can win it.”