Real Madrid are through to the final of the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup after a comfortable 2-0 win over Club America in Yokohama, Japan, on Thursday.
After dominating the contest, Karim Benzema fired Los Blancos into a deserved lead on the stroke of half-time. In the second period, Cristiano Ronaldo missed a clear chance to double the team"s lead but eventually got on the scoresheet beyond the 90th minute.
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Real Madrid will face Kashima Antlers in Sunday"s final, after the Japanese champions secured a 3-0 over Atletico Nacional on Wednesday.
Ronaldo threatened for Real early on.Matt Roberts/Getty Images
Having clinched the Ballon d’Or earlier in the week, all eyes were naturally on Ronaldo in this one, and in the early stages, it was the Madrid No. 7 who looked most likely to break the deadlock.
First, the 31-year-old fired off the post after a neat pass from Lucas Vazquez, though the linesman put his flag up for offside. Ronaldo struck the woodwork again in the 26th minute, this time heading against the post after more excellent work from Vazquez.
Momentum was beginning to build behind Real, and Benzema thought he"d scored after tucking home a rebound from Ronaldo"s free-kick. However, he was offside. The Frenchman eventually found the net in first-half stoppage time, though.
Benzema fires Madrid ahead.TORU YAMANAKA/Getty Images
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Toni Kroos was the architect, as his delicate through pass left Benzema with time and space to pick his spot across the "keeper, fizzing the ball into the net with the outside of his foot. Per the OptaJose Twitter feed, the striker seems to enjoy this competition:
1 - Karim Benzema is the first Real Madrid player to score in two different #ClubWC. Gourmet. https://t.co/SDqPzvEezd
The goal gave Real a well-deserved lead at the interval and left Club America, who had offered little in an attacking sense in the first period, with a mountain to climb.
After play restarted, Ronaldo continued to hunt for a goal, and once again, Vazquez fed the forward in the penalty area. But he saw his shot well blocked by Paolo Goltz. The Portuguese spurned another chance after the hour mark too, as he comically mistimed his effort inside the six-yard box.
As noted by Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC, Vazquez was proving to be a menace to the Club America defenders with his deliveries into the area:
Lucas Vazquez with another perfect cross... Benzema leaves it for Ronaldo... whose taken by surprise and miscues in front of gaping goal.
Real continued to keep their opponents pinned back as the match entered the final stages, but they were reminded of the dangers of only having a one-goal advantage. That was after Nacho did well to clear from under his own bar after a devilish cross into the area.
Unfortunately for Club America, that was the only real flurry they had in the latter stages, as Real slowly took the sting out of the game by keeping the ball. It allowed them to pick through their cavalier opponents as the end approached and allowed Ronaldo to finally get on the scoresheet with virtually the final kick of the game.
Ronaldo did eventually get on the scoresheet.Matt Roberts/Getty Images
As noted by Phil Kitromilides of Real Madrid TV, it was a landmark goal for the prolific 31-year-old:
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored in every competition he's ever played in for Real Madrid.
This competition may not be the most important on Real Madrid"s agenda this term, but there"s always something special about being crowned the best club side in the world. Manager Zinedine Zidane will be pleased to see his side through, although he will be aware that improvements are needed against a cohesive Antlers team.
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Indeed, with pockets of empty seats around the stadium, there were times when this semi-final felt like an exhibition match for the European champions. Expect more punters to be in attendance on Sunday in support of the J.League winners and a more vociferous accompanying atmosphere as a result.
After the game injured Madrid forward Gareth Bale posted his congratulations to the team on social media:
Good win from the boys in Japan