It has been quite a few months for Carlo Ancelotti. It seems hard to imagine now, amid all the numerous plaudits and achievements heading his way, that it was only in May that he’s very future at Real Madrid was questioned. Having failed to land the Spanish league title, there was much suggestion that notoriously demanding Real Madrid president Florentino Perez might pull the trigger on the Italian after just a single season in charge should he fail to claim victory in the Champions League final.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the third minute of injury time in Lisbon against a team considered their poor local relations, Atletico Madrid, it’s very possible that Ancelotti’s future at the Bernabeu was hanging by a thread. Then Sergio Ramos headed in an equalizer, and Madrid went onto cruise to victory in extra time to secure the trophy they coveted most, a 10th European Cup. “La Decima.”
An illustration of just how well things have gone since comes from Perez stating this week that he would be “delighted” to offer the shrewd former Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea coach a new contract. There was a blip at the start of this season, but ever since it has been perfection. A Spanish record 21 straight wins has taken Madrid five points clear atop La Liga, cruising through to the last 16 of the Champions League and, now, on the verge of delivering Madrid the one major trophy missing from their collection. On Saturday, Real Madrid will take on South American champions San Lorenzo in the final of the Club World Cup.
“This is a final and they are full of confidence and ready,” Ancelotti said ahead of the clash in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, reports Spanish sports daily AS. “We’re really keen to finish off the year in style. We’re relaxed and confident. Something good will happen.”
Madrid will have Colombian star James Rodriguez back available, but have a doubt over the fitness of Ramos. It was another header from Ramos that sent Madrid on their way to the final, as he opened the scoring in the last four meeting with Concacaf representatives Cruz Azul. After a somewhat tricky first half, in which the Mexican side missed a penalty, Madrid went onto cruise to a 4-0 win.
It was a very different story for their opponents. San Lorenzo, winner of the Copa Libertadores in August, needed extra time to beat the semi-professional Oceania champions Auckland City FC 2-1 on Wednesday. It means that, as well as taking on the world’s most in-form side, they will have to do so on a day’s less rest and having played 120 minutes. But coach Edgardo Bauza insists his team are ready for one final effort at the end of a year that saw them win the biggest honor in the club’s history.
“It’s very easy to motivate players for a game like this,” he said, according to AS. All I have done is remind them of what they have done to get here and that this is the same venue where they have already won. It was very difficult for us to get this far. Tomorrow’s final will be our 65th game of 2014. The players have made a huge sacrifice and they are prepared and ready to play this game.”
A protest from San Lorenzo has led to the referee for the final being changed. Portugal’s Pedro Proenca was originally set to officiate the match at Marrakech’s Le Grand Stade, but a referee from a neutral confederation has now been chosen in Guatemala’s Walter Lopez.
Kickoff time: 2.30 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 2