By Samindra Kunti in Rabat
February 11 – Spearheaded by Vinicius Junior and Frederico Valverde, Real Madrid defeated the Asian champions 5-3 to win a record fifth Club World Cup crown and reconfirm European dominance of the competition.
Valverde and Vinicius Junior scored a brace each, but each time Real Madrid had a reassuring advantage the Saudisexploited Madrid’s cavalier defending to keep the final alive and provide an entertaining spectacle.
Ultimately, Madrid’s fifth goal and Vinicius’s second proved a step too far for Al Hilal. It was Madrid’s fifth Club World Cup victory and eighth overall global crown having won the Intercontinental Cup on three occasions.
At various moments, the match should no longer been a contest – at 2-0, 3-1, 4-1 and 5-2 – but every time Al Hilal found a way back, often through Luciano Vietto, who at number 10 was the creative spark, with Moussa Marega holding up play as a target man. Marega squandered a golden opportunity at the far post to grab Al Hilal’s fourth.
In a final in which the goals simply kept flowing and ‘Visit Saudi’ branding was ubiquitous, Vinicius and Valverde were the headliners, not just for their goals but for their assists and incisive play as well. Karim Benzema got on the scoresheet as well with a fine touch from close range. Far from a vintage performance, Madrid, struggling domestically, did enough to ensure their name was engraved once again on the Club World Cup trophy.
Even though his team never looked like losing control, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti conceded that Al Hilal had shown “skills and quality”. “Europe is indeed very strong but the other continents are getting closer to it,” he commented.
Al Hilal enjoyed a landmark tournament, becoming the first Saudi side ever to make it to the final of the competition. In the semi-finals and in a major upset in tournament history, the Riyadh-based club had shocked Flamengo of Brazil, 3-2.
The Brazilians bounced back somewhat with a laboured 4-2 victory against Egypt’s Al Ahly to claim the bronze medal and stave off an internal crisis after the club had travelled to Morocco with the singular aim of toppling Real Madrid in a dream final. Ultimately, it was their youth product and former star Vinicius who stole the headlines.
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