Real Madrid safely booked their place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup after beating Cruz Azul 4-0 in Marrakech. Looking to avoid becoming the first European champions to fail to reach the final since the competition became an annual event in 2005, Madrid fielded their strongest available lineup and their quality told against the Concacaf champions at the Le Grande Stande. Sergio Ramos headed home a free-kick 15 minutes in, before Karim Benzema turned in a second nine minutes before the interval. In the second half, Gareth Bale’s header and then Isco’s delightful footwork andr finish ensured Madrid’s place in Saturday’s finale against either South American champions San Lorenzo or Oceania outsiders, Auckland City.
The win was the 21st in succession for Carlo Ancelotti’s men and leaves them just three short of the international record. And for almost the whole of the second half, it was a formality. For much of the first, though, it was a tougher examination than many may have expected.
The semifinal had been moved from Rabat, because of the waterlogged conditions that Cruz Azul battled through for 120 minutes in order to see off Western Sydney Wanderers in the quarterfinals three days ago. Given those exertions and coming off a poor season in Liga MX, Cruz Azul gave a good account of themselves in the opening 45 minutes, enjoying encouraging spells of possession. What they couldn’t do, though, was take their chances. The best of them fell to captain Gerardo Torrado, who had scored twice from the spot in the last eight, but this time struck a poor penalty that Iker Casillas blocked to deny Cruz Azul a way back into the match when 2-0 down. It was the gulf in quality in the final third that proved decisive, before Cruz Azul unsurprisingly faded as the match wore on.
What Luis Fernando Tena’s side also struggled with was Real Madrid’s full-backs. Dani Carvajal and Marcelo were a consistent threat as they hugged the touchline prowling forward to support the raft of attacking talent inside of them. It was Carvajal’s forays down the right that proved particularly difficult for the Mexican side to handle. Inside three minutes, his cross was headed back into the center by Benzema and Ronaldo got away a shot at goal but saw it repelled by a superb reaction save by Jesus Corona.
Only a few minutes later, the Mexico international stopper’s contribution was far less impressive. Carvajal was again involved, this time winning a free-kick that Toni Kroos curled with pinpoint accuracy into the penalty box. Corona came flying out of his goal, but failed to make contact with the ball and Ramos authoritatively headed into the unguarded net. Carvajal’s contribution was even more pivotal in Madrid doubling their lead. This time he had two men to beat, but did so with far too much ease from the Mexican side’s point of view, and chipped in a cross from the byline that Benzema arrived six yards out to convert.
By that point, Cruz Azul striker Mariano Pavone had failed to turn in an inviting cross, before the man who provided it, Cruz Azul’s biggest offensive threat, Joao Rojas, saw an effort blocked by Ramos. When Ramos put his arm on the shoulder of Pavone to cause the referee to point to the spot, Torrado erred to further a half of missed opportunities for the underdogs. That theme was complete three minutes before the break when Pavone seized upon a poor backpass from Asier Illarramendi but lacked the conviction to beat Casillas.
There was always something of a sense that Madrid were doing as much as was needed and could step things up a gear if need be. Cruz Azul had failed to test that theory and, despite substitute Pablo Barrera hitting the post with a thunderous effort, the second half was comfortable for the Champions League winners. Five minutes into the second half a sloppy error from Cruz Azul was swiftly capitalized upon when Cristiano Ronaldo set up Bale. And with 18 minutes remaining Ronaldo repeated the trick for Isco, who sidestepped two defenders before finding the corner of the net.
The only thing missing was a goal for Ronaldo. He so nearly provided one that, even by his incredible standards, would have been something special. With the game over as a contest, the world player of the year turned on the showboating style and met a Bale cross with a rabona that just lacked the direction to beat Corona.