Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring the team's second goal in the FIFA Club World Cup Semi Final against Club América, at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan, Dec. 15, 2016. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon Livepic

Real Madrid will play Kashima Antlers for the chance to win a second FIFA Club World Cup title in three years after getting past Mexican giants Club América in Thursday’s semifinal in Yokohama, Japan.

América, winners of Concacaf’s Champions League this year, acquitted itself impressively through much of the first half, but a goal in first-half injury time from Karim Benzema broke its resistance. It was a similar story in the second half before a strike from Cristiano Ronaldo in the 93rd minute sealed Madrid’s place in Sunday’s final.

For Ronaldo, it meant reaching yet another milestone in his remarkable career. Less than 72 hours after being crowned Ballon d’Or winner for the fourth time, he notched up his 500th career club goal.

Yet for much of the encounter between the champions of Europe and North, Central America and the Caribbean, it appeared he was destined not to reach the mark. Certainly, it was the Portuguese who was a central figure in Madrid’s frustrated attempts to grab an early lead.

After feeding Lucas Vazquez on the right it was Ronaldo who made his way into the box to get his head on the cross only to see the width of the post keep the ball out. He was involved, too, when Madrid was denied by a raised flag from an assistant referee. After Ronaldo’s powerful drive from outside the box was repelled by América’s heavily employed and impressive goalkeeper Moises Munoz, Benzema tucked the rebound away but saw the effort correctly ruled out for offside.

Crucially, though, América, who beat Asian champion Jeonbuk Hyundai in the quarterfinals, could not hold out until the halftime whistle. Toni Kroos, recently returned from injury, was the provider with a superb slide-rule pass in behind the América defense and Benzema did the rest thanks to a fine finish with the outside of his right foot that took the ball high into the net.

With the score only 1-0, América was never out of the running. Yet it was Real Madrid dominating play in the second half, with another goal from the 11-time European champion always looking likelier than an equalizer to force extra time.

Ronaldo had further chances to get on the scoresheet sooner. But he would have his moment in the dying embers of the match when substitute James Rodríguez slid him through on goal down the right side of the penalty area and he fired low and hard past Munoz. The goal was confirmed after the referee consulted the video assistant, which is being employed at the Club World Cup for the first time in a FIFA tournament.

Madrid now takes on the only team in the competition not to have gained its entry through winning its continental championship in the winner of Japan’s J-League Kashima Antlers. América, meanwhile, will have a meeting the same day with South American champion Atlético Nacional for third place.

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