Soccer

Real Madrid cruises to Club World Cup title

AP, AFP-JIJI

Luka Modric scored one goal and set up another in leading Real Madrid to the Club World Cup title by easing past host side Al Ain 4-1 on Saturday.

Prior to the final, Kashima Antlers faced River Plate in the third-place game and lost 4-0 in a match that saw the J. League team lose its goalkeeper to injury in the first half.

For Madrid, 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Modric struck from long range in the 14th minute after a promising start by the underdog Al Ain. He then placed a corner kick for Sergio Ramos to put the result beyond doubt at 3-0 in the 79th.

Midfielder Marcos Llorente also scored from outside the area for Madrid’s second goal.

The Spanish giants have now won a record four Club World Cup titles, pulling one clear of rival Barcelona, which was in Spanish first division action on Saturday.

“These players deserve it. They’re here after working very hard and winning many trophies,” said Real coach Santiago Solari.

“Today they added a finishing touch with the third consecutive Club World Cup, which I think is a great feat for the club, of course for Real Madrid and this group of players in particular.”

Solari, who has had to deal with rumors surrounding his future after former Madrid manager Jose Mourinho’s sacking by Manchester United earlier this week, named a strong side including Modric, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale.

With Al Ain already down 3-0, defender Tsukasa Shiotani headed in a consolation goal, but Yahia Nader scored an own goal in stoppage time.

“This is what we expected from ourselves, what we have been working on every week,” said Llorente after scoring his first goal for the club. “It’s my first for the senior team, and what could be better than in this final.”

Madrid, which has won the last three Champions League titles, boasts three more world titles than the next-best club, AC Milan.

“It’s been an unforgettable year for me,” said Modric, who led Croatia to the World Cup final in July. “It’s been perfect. We won the Champions League, I had a spectacular World Cup with Croatia, and now I have won another title with Madrid. It’s been a dream year.”

Al Ain reached the final after proving to be the surprise of the short tournament. The host representative from the United Arab Emirates upset South American champion River Plate in the semifinals on penalties.

Shortly after a deflected pass by Llorente hit the post in the third minute, Al Ain put a scare into Madrid with two chances from Hussein El Shahat.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had to rush out to impede him from getting a great scoring chance from close range. Then, a mistake by Marcelo left El Sahat alone to round Courtois, only for Ramos to hustle back and block his shot on the line.

But the rest of the way Madrid lived up to its elite status and the talent gap was evident between the sides.

Modric put Madrid in charge a minute later when he curled an unstoppable left-footed shot around a defender and diving goalkeeper Khalid Eisa.

Then Lucas Vazquez sent a shot just by the post, Karim Benzema fired high, and Bale’s header drew a save from Eisa before halftime.

It fell to Llorente to double the lead with half an hour left when he blasted in a powerful low strike when the clearance of a corner kick fell to him outside the box.

“This title is merited by my players,” Solari said.

Kashima finished fourth at the tournament after being unable to make use of the few chances it had against River Plate, a team that recently emerged victorious from a controversial Copa Libertadores final against bitter Buenos Aires rival Boca Juniors.

“We lacked the ability to convert our chances,” said Kashima manager Go Oiwa. “We found out that the level on the world stage is very high, and we now know what we can do (to compete). We have to be tougher.”

Antlers lost their No. 1 goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae to an apparent foot injury after 23 minutes, and just one minute later Bruno Zuculini scored for River Plate, getting his head to an outswinging corner kick.

The Japanese side almost responded in the 44th minute when Koki Anzai latched onto a right-footed drive from just outside the six-yard box, but the ball crashed into the crossbar, leaving the 23-year-old holding his head in frustration.

After having a second-half strike disallowed for offside on VAR review, the Argentinian squad extended its lead when Gonzalo Martinez struck in the 73rd minute and Santos Borre converted an 89th-minute penalty.

Martinez, in his final match for River before moving to Major League Soccer champions Atlanta United, completed his brace during injury time.

Antlers had 13 shots, three on target, including Anzai’s strike.

“I saw there’s a difference (between the teams). Every one of us needs to realize this fact and improve in Japan,” said former Japan defender Atsuto Uchida, who returned to Kashima this season after seven and a half years in Germany.

“It’s a shame to end the tournament like this when we were representing the J. League.”