Real Madrid beat Kashima Antlers 4-2 to win the FIFA Club World Cup in extra-time after the Japanese champions played the game of their lives to leave Zinedine Zidane’s team hanging on at the end of 90 minutes.
A glance at the history books will suggest Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick, was the hero but it was Karim Benzema who was head and shoulders man of the match.
It was the Frenchman’s pass in the first half of extra-time that Ronaldo took into his stride and converted to put Real Madrid 3-2 up. He also got the first before Gaku Shibasaki scored twice.
Kashima never gave up and even after Ronaldo’s second goal, Yuma Suzuki crashed a header against the bar. Ronaldo finished it, lashing in the fourth from the edge of the six-yard box after Toni Kroos miss-hit his shot.
No one even expected Kashima to be in the final. All the half-and-half scarves around the Yokahama Stadium had Atletico Nacional on them but the Japanese side had turfed the Colombian team out in the semis and they so nearly did for Madrid.
Zidane has now won three finals inside his first year – and all of them in extra-time. His team took the lead on 10 minutes when Luka Modric shot from the edge of the area and Kashima keeper Hitoshi Sogahata palmed the ball out to Benzema who scored one of the easiest goals of his career.
Benzema’s goal had been the 10th of the season and he was close to his 11th when he shot from just inside the area, but Sogahata got down well to his left to make the save.
With Benzema outstanding, Ronaldo was lost in stepovers in the first half. He stepped on the ball with another unnecessary over-elaboration and then appeared to blame Benzema who was in no mood to take it, well aware he was the best player on the pitch.
He was at the heart of another fine move that this time finished with Sogahata saving from Modric. Madrid were well on top as the first half came to an end but were sloppy in defence and conceded an equaliser.
Shibasaki beat Keylor Navas on 43 minutes after a poor clearance from Raphael Varane.
There was still a sense that if Madrid found another gear they would win the game comfortably but they were sluggish at the start of the second half and on 52 minutes their world fell in when Ramos hooked the ball clear but straight into the danger area and after both Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal were slow to close, Shibasaki scored his and Kashima’s second.
Madrid were now 35 minutes from one of the biggest humiliations in their history but it was Vazquez who saved the day, darting through the middle of the Kashima defence until he was brought down by Shuto Yamamoto. Referee Janny Sikazwe pointed to the spot and booked the defender.
Ronaldo stepped up and buried the penalty in Sogahata’s right hand corner. Madrid are never better than when they need a heroic comeback and they were flying now with Marcelo playing as a left winger and Madrid’s formation more a 3-1-4-2 than the 4-2-3-1 they had started with. Marcelo popped up in the centre-forward position and shot straight at the keeper from Benzema’s cross.
Real still had problems at the other end. Navas had to save well from Endo and the keeper then clattered into Ramos charging out of his goal and the defender needed treatment for a rib injury.
Sogahata was in good form at the other end from another shot from Benzema and when Ronaldo turned in the rebound he was offside. He then missed two chances he would usually bury. The first a header from a Vazquez cross and the second a shot from another sublime Benzema pass.
Madrid were hanging on at the end and they had Navas to thank for saving at the feet of Shibasaki who was close to completing a match-winning hat-trick. Ramos then risked a red card with what looked like a tactical foul on the halfway line. The referee seemed to fumble in his pocket with Casemiro trying to con the match official into thinking the foul had been his and not Ramos’. In the end it didn’t matter because the card never came out and the referee blew for 90 minutes.
In extra-time Benzema showed his class once more and this time Ronaldo did not miss. He grabbed his hat-trick to leave Madrid breathing more easily for the first time in the game.
Ronaldo soon added a fourth to cap the performance. Madrid have made it 37 games unbeaten and, more importantly, are now the FIFA World Club champions.