Real Madrid secured their place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017 with a 2-1 victory over Al Jazira, but not without a serious scare.
Having dominated, the European champions found themselves behind at the break thanks to a well-taken Romarinho goal, needing Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to secure passage in the second half.
It was always expected Ali Khaseif was going to need to exceed even his eye-catching display against Auckland City to see Al Jazira have a chance. He more than did so inside the opening 20 minutes. Denying Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and tipping a deflected effort onto the bar, the pick of the bunch, he was almost a one-man barrier against the Madrid tsunami.
But Al Jazira had a gameplan, much like in their last two games – soak up the pressure and hit their opponents on the break. Twice Ali Mabkhout arguably should have made that count. Twice the ball was in the back of the Abu Dhabi side’s net, too, but a foul and an offside – after a VAR consultation – saw their goal’s charmed life continue.
Incredibly, the first strike was registered at the other end, with Romarinho pouncing on an uncharacteristic mistake to slot beyond Keylor Navas – a lead that was almost doubled moments after the break. However, another VAR call saw Mbark Boussoufa’s strike also chalked off for offside.
But perhaps an even bigger blow came when Khaseif exited with a thigh injury. Moments later, Ronaldo equalised to make him the tournament’s record goalscorer. Rediscovering his clinical touch, he picked out the bottom left corner with a superb half volley. Benzema should have swung the game firmly back in Madrid’s favour, but twice rattled the same post from inside the area.
The Frenchman departed and Bale, returning from injury, wasted no time in slotting the Spaniards in front for a cut back and into the final to face Gremio.