Just 72 hours removed from a 120-minute battle on a waterlogged pitch to defeat Western Sydney Wanderers, Cruz Azul will face the ominous task of attempting to derail the world’s most in-form team. The Mexican outfit, winners of the Concacaf Champions League, will take on Europe’s kings and a team on a 20-match winning run, Real Madrid, in the semifinals of the FIFA Club World Cup.
After a difficult start to the season following the lifting of their 10th European Cup in May, Carlo Ancelotti’s squad have romped to an unmatched streak of victories for a Spanish club to move within four of equaling the international record, held by Brazilians Coritiba. The run has ensured Madrid will finish 2014 on top of La Liga, and has taken them through to the last 16 of the Champions League as they attempt to become the first team to repeat as winners of the competition. Should they extend the streak to 22, they will become champions of the world for the first time in the Club World Cup’s current, expanded format, and fourth time overall, including the former Intercontinental Cup. For Ancelotti, winner of the trophy with Milan in 2007, it would be the perfect end to a memorable year.
”It is not over yet,” Ancelotti said, reports Spanish publication AS. “We have the Club World Cup, which is very important. All the teams have done a great job to get here. To win it would bring to an end a memorable year.
Madrid begin the tournament as strong favorites to deliver a seventh success for Europe in its 11th edition. But Ancelotti is taking nothing for granted.
“Everyone here is a champion. Maybe our quality is superior but you have to show that in all the games. The teams that are here deserve to be here, it is a great championship. Many people are watching this tournament.”
While led by the red-hot Cristiano Ronaldo, Ancelotti will have to negotiate the semifinal without the injured James Rodriguez and Sami Khedira. The pair are expected to be fit for the next game, whether that be the third-place playoff or the final, both of which will wake place on Saturday.
The preparations of both teams have been disrupted by a late change in venue for Tuesday’s first semifinal. The match was scheduled to take place at the same Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah stadium where Cruz Azul advanced in the quarterfinal over Wanderers on Saturday, but the deluged pitch they encountered means it has now been switched to Marrakech.
The team from Mexico City required a late equalizer and extra time before eventually prevailing 3-1 against the winners of the Asian Champions League, which finished the match with nine men. Cruz Azul now have a chance to become the first Mexican side to reach a Club World Cup final. And coach Luis Fernando Tena is relishing the prospect of taking on a talent-rich Madrid lineup.
"We’re so excited, of course,” he said, reports FIFA.com. “We’ve been thinking about Real Madrid for a long time, but we had to focus on the Western Sydney game and ensure we got a result. We’re playing the best team in the world, who have won 20 straight matches. They’re not only the favorites to beat us but also to win the Club World Cup. But it’s also true that surprises happen in football.”
Prediction: Even before their difficult quarterfinal, Cruz Azul didn’t exactly arrive in the best of form, having failed to make the playoffs in Liga MX. They do, though, have some quality at their disposal. On his day, young Mexico midfielder Marco Fabian can be a danger, while there is experience at the top level in midfield and in the back, courtesy of Gerardo Torrado and Francisco Rodriguez. Up front, the onus to get goals rests with former Real Betis striker Mariano Pavone. But clearly, Real Madrid will start as overwhelming favorites. In such relentless form, there is little prospect of them becoming the first Champions League winners not to reach the Club World Cup final since the tournament became an annual affair in 2005.
Real Madrid 3-0 Cruz Azul
Kickoff time: 2.30 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1