Real Madrid end Al Ain's dream
Abu Dhabi: Real Madrid ended Al Ain’s fairytale run at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 as a pair of spectacular goals from Luka Modric and Marcos Llorente helped secure a 4-1 victory and a third successive triumph at the tournament.
In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo was Madrid’s match-winner in the final, days after winning the Ballon d’Or; fast forward 12 months and Real once again turned to the year’s newly crowned world’s best - midfield magician Modric - to set them on the way to victory.
Al Ain may have suffered the same fate as fellow Emirati outfit Al Jazira - who lost to Madrid in last year’s semi-final - but Zoran Mamic’s side managed to go a step further at the tournament, making history by becoming the first team from the UAE to finish as runners-up at the FIFA Club World Cup.
An unforgettable tournament could have had a truly blockbuster ending for Al Ain had they scored first in Abu Dhabi; they came agonisingly close in the 13th minute when Hussein El Shahat was denied by the last-ditch defending of Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.
El Shehat, who has been outstanding for Al Ain during the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018, pounced on a loose cross-field pass and showed deft footwork to tiptoe through the Real Madrid defence. The Egyptian took the ball around keeper Thibaut Courtois but his goalbound effort was dramatically diverted wide by the diving Ramos.
Just seconds later, Los Blancos were ahead. A rapid breakaway ended with Karim Benzema laying the ball off to Modric on the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder unleashed a fierce left-footed strike, which curled past the helpless Khalid Eisa into the corner of the goal.
The diminutive Croatian’s effort was only his second goal for Madrid in 2018, coming 11 months after his first in January.
In what was a frenzied spell at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, Al Ain almost immediately equalised. Caio ran clear of the Madrid backline and slotted the ball coolly past Courtois, but the goal was rightly ruled out as the Brazilian was offside.
From then on it was damage limitation for Al Ain, who struggled to get the ball off their opponents.
The ever impressive Khalid Eisa produced a super save to tip Gareth Bale's header over the crossbar and shortly after denied Modric, whose ambitious 25-yard volley looked to be heading in until the Emirati goalkeeper intervened. In the second period it was Benzema who found himself thwarted by Eisa, who smartly saved the Frenchman’s near-post shot.
Eventually, however, Eisa was beaten again.
Midfielder Marcos Llorente has impressed in place of the injured Casemiro in recent weeks and the Madrid academy graduate bagged his first ever senior goal in some style in Abu Dhabi, a stunning half-volley repaying the faith put in him by coach Santiago Solari.
Al Ain created a couple of half-chances but Rayan Yaslem, fed by Mohamed Abdulrahman, sliced a left-footed shot off towards the corner flag, while Caio had an effort blocked by Courtois after sprinting clear of Ramos.
It was the Madrid captain who put the game beyond all doubt, heading home Modric’s corner to secure a record-breaking fourth FIFA Club World Cup crown for Los Blancos - one ahead of long-time rivals Barcelona.
Yahia Nader’s own goal added a fourth for Madrid in stoppage time but just before that Al Ain were able to make their final mark on the tournament as Caio's perfectly flighted free-kick was glanced home brilliantly by Tsukasa Shiotani – the full-back netting his second goal in four games.
Madrid may take the plaudits but for The Boss, there are innumerable positives to take out of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018. Mamic’s side played some hugely entertaining football, won many new admirers, and will be confident of challenging for both the UAE Pro League and AFC Champions League titles again in 2019.
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images