Having already won a record 10th European Cup, established a four point lead atop La Liga and set a Spanish record for consecutive wins, Real Madrid can cap a 2014 to remember by lifting the FIFA Club World Cup on Saturday. Madrid will take on South American champions San Lorenzo in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, attempting to win the one major honor to thus far elude the world’s most gloried club.
While Real Madrid won the old Intercontinental Coup, played between the champions of Europe and South America, three times they have yet to be officially crowned world kings. Now in the Club World Cup’s 10th year since it became an annual event, they are overwhelming favorites to beat Argentinian opponents chasing their first global honor.
Real Madrid eventually cruised past Concacaf champions Cruz Azul on Tuesday to book their spot in the final of a competition that manager Carlo Ancelotti has repeatedly insisted they are taking with the utmost importance.
“The players are very focused and always ready to give their all,” Ancelotti said after Real Madrid’s 4-0 win over the same Le Grande Stadium that will host Saturday’s final, reports FIFA.com. “Now we're just one win from the title and we're 100 percent ready for the task ahead. My team deserves this trophy; it would be a great end to a wonderful year.”
In contrast to Madrid’s win -- secured by goals from Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Isco -- San Lorenzo’s first match in the tournament was a real struggle. The Copa Libertadores winners needed extra time and a goal from substitute Mauro Matos to get past the amateur representatives from Oceania, Auckland City, 2-1. San Lorenzo coach Edgardo Bauza accepts his side failed to perform to expectations in Wednesday’s semifinal, but is hoping to put those problems behind them as they target an upset against a Cristiano-Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid side
“The game didn’t pan out as planned for us, which is why I made some changes,” he said. “After that we were able to get into it better. Now we’ll start preparing for the final and will do everything we can to win. We’ll try to play to the best of our ability and to meet expectations, even if we are going up against one of the best teams in the world with a lot of quality individuals.”
San Lorenzo’s only honors outside of Argentina before this year was a Copa Sudamericana, essentially South America’s equivalent of the Europa League, and its previous incarnation, the Copa Mercosur. In August came the biggest success in their history when landing the prestigious Copa Libertadores for the first time, when beating Paraguay’s Nacional in the final. Ever since then, as it is for every winner, the focus has been on testing themselves against Europe’s best. Unfortunately, as is also customary for the South American champions, before getting to the Club World Cup San Lorenzo have had to cope with losing key players. The side from the Buenos Aires barrio of Flores have seen young star Angel Correa leave for Atletico Madrid and creative midfielder Ignacio Piatti join Major League Soccer side Montreal Impact. They have, though, added experience in the form of 38-year-old Colombian center-back Mario Yepes.
While San Lorenzo will hope that Yepes can fully recover in time after battling for 120 minutes on Wednesday, Real Madrid face an anxious wait over the fitness of their own influential center-back, Sergio Ramos. After the Spain international was forced to come off with a thigh injury against Cruz Azul, he was still missing from training on Thursday. Both player and coach, though, are hopeful about his chances of returning for the final. There is better news over the fitness of James Rodriguez, who is now back in full training after recovering from a calf injury suffered two weeks ago. The Colombian star could take the place of Asier Illarramendi.
Victory on Sunday would not only see Madrid lift the trophy, but also claim their 22nd successive win. That would leave them four short of the mark set by Ajax in the 1971-72 season, which, despite it being widely reported to be Curitiba’s 24, is believed to be the international record.
Prediction: The semifinals offered few signs that the final will produce anything other than an expected Real Madrid victory. However, the task facing San Lorenzo will be much different than their semifinal struggle. This time the focus will very much be on trying to frustrate Madrid and take one of their precious few chances on the break. Such a strategy has paid off for Corinthians, Internacional and Sao Paulo, who all won the Club World Cup final against European clubs by a score of 1-0. A San Lorenzo team that conceded just nine goals in 13 matches en route to the Copa Libertadores title should be well equipped for such an approach.
Whether they can pose a threat at the other end is a different matter. Madrid’s attacking lineup has some vulnerability to exploit, as even Cruz Azul showed in the first half of their semifinal. But the Mexican side were eventually brushed aside, unable to cope with the incredible array of options Madrid have going forward. The story is unlikely to be to dissimilar on Saturday.
Real Madrid 2-0 San Lorenzo
Kickoff time: 2:30 p.m. EST