ABU DHABI - Real Madrid advanced to the FIFA Club World Cup final with a 3-1 victory over Kashima Antlers in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.
In a rematch of the 2016 final at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium, Gareth Bale scored a hat trick to run the show for Real and help set up a showdown against host side Al Ain on Saturday, where the Spanish giants will aim to win the tournament for the third year in a row.
“They took advantage of our defensive flop and scored just before halftime, and that’s when we let the game slip away,” Kashima manager Go Oiwa said of Bale’s opening goal in the 44th minute.
“They were mentally strong after they took the lead. I feel like we could have controlled the game more.”
Shoma Doi pulled one back for the Asian champions in the 78th minute, but it was too little, too late as Bale tore the Antlers apart with three goals in the space of 11 minutes before the J. League side reduced the deficit with Doi’s consolation effort.
Real face Al Ain in the final at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, while Kashima meets River Plate of Argentina in the third-place playoff.
Madrid had qualified for the tournament between the top teams on each continent in large part thanks to Bale, who scored twice in the 3-1 win over Liverpool in May’s Champions League final.
Bale scored his first goal against Kashima just before halftime and added two more quickly after the break to decide the match.
“It’s an important victory,” Bale said. “We knew it would be a difficult game against a team that would make it difficult for us, so we just had to be professionals and get to the final.”
In the final, the European champions will be heavily favored to claim a fourth club world title.
“I’m happy for the three great goals by Bale, and for the strength and consistency showed by the team,” said Madrid manager Santiago Solari.
Solari added that another world title would be “a prize for this team that has given its fans so much and accomplished the feat of winning three straight Champions Leagues.”
The Argentine manager summed up the opportunity his team has by saying, “Adding three straight Club World Cups would be fantastic.”
Wednesday’s game was a rematch of the 2016 final, when Madrid needed extra time to defeat Kashima 4-2.
This time, Real had no trouble.
Kashima had a promising start as Serginho shot just wide and Gen Shoji almost reached a corner kick that would have left him with a point-blank header in the third minute.
Madrid, however, took control and started probing the right side as Bale’s speed proved too much to handle.
Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos sent headers wide before Bale exchanged a quick pair of passes with Marcelo to score off the far post in the 43rd minute.
Bale’s second goal in the 53rd minute came after two horrible passes by Kashima defenders left their goalkeeper stranded and he added his third two minutes later after Marcelo found him alone in the box.
Bale was replaced by Marco Asensio, who later had to leave with an apparent leg injury.
The match was interrupted in stoppage time when two fans ran onto the field toward Benzema and Marcelo. They were quickly removed by stadium security.
On Tuesday, Al Ain upset River Plate of Argentina on penalties.