Real Madrid are double world champions, history-makers in Abu Dhabi, winners for a first time of five trophies in a calendar year.
As is so often the case, Cristiano Ronaldo stood up when it was required, the five-time Ballon d’Or holder scoring the only goal to see off Gremio at Zayed Sports City on Saturday night, clinching for his side a second successive Fifa Club World Cup. The first team to do so, just as they were when sealing back-to-back Uefa Champions League titles in June.
Gremio were dogged and determined, at times devilish too, but Madrid had too much. They deserved trophy No 5, an early season slump seemingly put to bed on a thunderous evening in the capital. The stadium rocked and it rumbled, as a largely successful tournament in the UAE drew to a fitting close.
Ronaldo was always destined to have the final word. Forever the man for the big occasion, he thudded a free kick on 53 minutes through the Gremio wall and inside goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe’s post. Ronaldo had won the set piece himself, then dispatched it. He took off towards the Madrid bench, soon swallowed by teammates, another layer to his lore added.
Madrid had already had their chances. Luka Modric ensured the match ran to his beat, the Croatia captain passing, probing and pulling the strings like few others can. In the first half, he flashed a shot inches wide from the edge of the Gremio penalty area; later, he struck the woodwork from range.
Gremio are no slouches, though. Anointed Copa Libertadores champions less than three weeks previously, they were the last to arrive in the Emirates, but appeared set on making up for lost time.
It took all of a minute for Renato Portaluppi’s men to signal their intent. Moments after kick off, captain Pedro Geromel went through the back of Ronaldo, sinking his studs into the Portuguese’s calf. Ronaldo writhed in pain, his bare leg bearing the mark of Geromel’s over-eagerness.
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He simply set about stamping his authority on the game. Until his goal, Ronaldo was not at his best, but he always felt Madrid’s chief threat. It is testament to his pedigree, to his prowess. It is what makes the Euro 2016 winner, even at age 32, still one of the best around, reinforcing his reputation as one of greatest to have played the game.
Just after the hour, Ronaldo had a second goal disallowed. Latching onto Karim Benzema’s knockdown, he sent a measured half-volley beyond Grohe, only to see the referee’s assistant had flagged for offside. Replays showed Benzema was just on. Ronaldo called for the Video Assistant Referee, a regular feature in Madrid’s dramatic semi-final victory against hosts Al Jazira, but to no avail.
In the end, it mattered little. Ronaldo continued to do what he does, looking to catch Gremio on the counter, stinging Grohe’s palms whenever he could. Gareth Bale was introduced as a late substitute, much to the delight of the majority of the 41,000-plus crammed into the stadium. Breaking down Gremio’s right, the Welshman arched a shot at Grohe, but he deflected the effort away for a corner.
Soon, the final whistle sounded. Ronaldo’s goal was enough, Zinedine Zidane’s side world champions twice on the bounce, collectors of five trophies in 2017. El Clasico is up next, at the Bernabeu in a week’s time, but for one night in Abu Dhabi Madrid were permitted to bask in another piece of history for the game’s grandest club.