Real Madrid booked their place in the FIFA Club World Cup final courtesy of a Gareth Bale hat-trick, which ensured a 3-1 win over Kashima Antlers.
In what was a repeat of the 2016 final, Real Madrid locked horns with Kashima Antlers in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final, and there were early signs that the tie in Abu Dhabi could be a repeat from the keenly contested affair two years ago, as the holders started a little sluggishly.
But, once they found their feet, there was very little stopping Real Madrid from dominating the proceedings, although they did not create many clear-cut chances until the dying embers of the first half. With just one minute left till half-time, Marcelo and Gareth Bale combined splendidly before the latter opened the scoring from a tight angle.
Real Madrid did not have to wait long before doubling their advantage, as Shuto Yamamoto’s poorly weighted back pass was intercepted by Bale, who then rounded Kwoun Sun-tae to grab his second. Two minutes later, the win and Bale’s hat-trick was completed, with the Welshman linking up with Marcelo once again before producing a thumping finish.
But, there was time for one last goal, as the AFC Champions League holders scored a consolation goal, as Shoma Doi calmly scored through the bodies and past Thibaut Courtois. Kashima Antlers did look to be in the ascendancy thereafter, but Real Madrid held on for the 3-1 win to progress to the FIFA Club World Cup final.
? FT: @atlrs_english 1-3 @realmadrid
⚽ Doi 78'; @GarethBale11 44', 53', 55'#Emirates | #RMCWC pic.twitter.com/njl7zjwgoW
— Real Madrid C.F. ???? (@realmadriden) December 19, 2018
As Los Blancos prepare to win the competition for the fourth time in the last five years, The Hard Tackle runs the rule over Santiago Solari’s men, following a largely convincing performance.
Thibaut Courtois: 6/10
Called into action quite early, Courtois showed brilliant alertness to to deny Serginho. Thereafter, the Belgian had very little to do, killing off whatever little threat Kashima Antlers could create by coming off his lines to collect aerial balls. Would have been annoyed by the late goal he conceded, although he could have done very little to stop it.
Dani Carvajal: 6/10
A largely quiet game for Carvajal, who never quite got out of second gear. Barely threatened at the back by the sprightly teenager Hiroki Abe, the Spaniard did not create much in the final third either. A safe showing.
Raphael Varane: 7/10
Varane had the task of containing the single most dangerous outlet for Kashima Antlers on Wednesday, and he did so with aplomb. The Frenchman used his pace to good effect whenever the Japanese giants threatened to create some pressure. Will hope to build on this performance, as the second half of the season looms.
Sergio Ramos: 6/10
At fault for the only real chance that Kashima Antlers created in the first half, it was Ramos’ misplaced pass that ended with Serginho’s shot on goal. Did not have to do much for the rest of the game, and the Real Madrid captain typically went on his free runs into the final third looking for chances to score. Could have perhaps, closed down Doi for his goal.
After an injury-riddled first half of the season, Marcelo seems to be getting back to his best, at least as far as his exploits in attack are concerned. The Brazilian set up two of Gareth Bale’s goals with perfectly weighted passes and was constantly a potent threat in the final third. At fault for Doi’s goal, playing the Kashima attack onside, which is the reason he’s docked a point.
Luka Modric: 6.5/10
Another player who played well within himself on Wednesday, Modric could have used this game to rediscover his best. But, while the Ballon d’Or winner did keep things ticking in midfield, he never took it upon himself to create chances that would have made the scoreline embarrassing for Kashima Antlers.
Marcos Llorente: 7/10
In what was a testament to his growing stature within the Real Madrid first-team setup, Llorente started even though Casemiro was fit and available. The Spaniard did not disappoint either, absorbing whatever little threat the J1 League side could create through the middle, while also showcasing his passing abilities. Will be interesting to see how long he can keep Casemiro out of the side.
Toni Kroos: 6.5/10
Like Modric, Kroos never got out of cruise control mode either, making sure Real Madrid controlled the game without showing the best side to his game. He didn’t need to play out of his skin either, although Solari would hope he has saved his best for the final, if needed.
Lucas Vazquez: 6/10
Real Madrid were constantly in business in the final third, but Lucas Vazquez was one player who did not fully make use of this opportunity. Had a chance to get himself on the scoresheet around the hour mark, but his weak shot did not test Kwoun. Typically hard working off the ball, the Spaniard now needs to add substance on it.
Karim Benzema: 7/10
Benzema was relentless all through the game, trying his best to get on to the score sheet. But, it wasn’t to be his night, which was evident when a goalbound shot was cleared off the line by Yamamoto. He never stopped trying though, as the Frenchman linked splendidly with Marcelo and Bale.
Gareth Bale: 9/10
Gareth Bale has now scored more Club World Cup goals (6) than Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez (5).
Cristiano Ronaldo (7) is the only player with more. ? pic.twitter.com/AJIcWmH8Mf
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 19, 2018
Bale looked off colour in the early stages of the game, with his end product leaving much to be desired. But, once he opened the scoring in the 44th minute, there was very little stopping him. While his finish for the first goal was superb, the Welshman showed brilliant awareness to pounce on a poor back pass before doubling his tally.
But, Bale wasn’t done yet, as he completed his hat-trick with a thumping shot from a narrow angle. Only Cristiano Ronaldo now has more goals in FIFA Club World Cup than Bale, who became only the third player to score a hat-trick in the competition. History awaits in the final.
3 – Gareth Bale is the third player in the FIFA Club World Cup history to score a hat-trick, after Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez. Dragon. pic.twitter.com/xaCLhLIEYy
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 19, 2018
Marco Asensio: N/A
On for Bale at the hour mark, Asensio had a chance to show his qualities and prove himself to be a viable alternative to Lucas Vazquez. But, he only lasted 15 minutes on the field, with a thigh injury forcing him off.
Introduced midway through the second half, Isco produced a telling performance, running the show in attack and setting up Benzema for a glorious chance not long after he was brought on. With his future up in the air, more such showings may just signal a turnaround in fortunes.
Casemiro replaced Isco for a cameo that was intended to get him back to full match fitness. Did not have much of a time to make an impact, although he did lose Doi, who scored the consolation goal for Kashima Antlers. Not the best of impressions when Llorente has been in such fine form.
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