Superb Manchester City beat Fluminense to secure historic Club World Cup triumph

Pep Guardiola's English and European champions make it five trophies in 2023

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Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City not so much completed the circle as cemented it shut.

Cemented their place in history; their manager’s too. A first Fifa Club World Cup crown was theirs on a stifling but relatively straightforward Friday night in Jeddah – Fluminense of Brazil fought off with four unanswered goals.

Club World Cup title No 1 elevated City to five trophies in an astonishing 2023, the English and European champions now officially global supremos, as well.

Surely City sit among the top teams of recent memory. They’re maybe comparable even to the finest of much farther back also.

Once dubbed “Mr Club World Cup” in Germany, success in Saudi Arabia means Guardiola now stands alone as the manager with most titles. This was his fourth, taking him clear of old friend and competitive foe Carlo Ancelotti, adding to the glories masterminded at Barcelona, twice, and Bayern Munich.

Fluminense, really, couldn't compete with that. The emboldened and battle-hardened Brazilians were said to have embraced Friday as perhaps the greatest occasion of the club’s 121-year history. They arrived in the kingdom in the afterglow of an inaugural Copa Libertadores title, sealed last month and setting in motion a shot at arguably the most coveted crown in South American club football.

Their travelling support certainly suggested so; estimates tallied those to have made the trek from Rio de Janeiro to Jeddah as anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000. At an almost sell-out King Abdullah Sports City stadium, although still outnumbered by the City contingent, they made their presence felt.

Yet they had barely finished roaring the start of proceedings when their team fell behind. In the opening minute, Nathan Ake advanced and, unchallenged, curled a fine left-footed effort that smacked off the upright.

With goalkeeper Fabio flailing to his right, the ball fell conveniently into the path of Julian Alvarez, who improvised well to chest into the empty net.

It would not have been lost on the forward, nor the Fluminense faithful stacked behind the goal, that an Argentine had struck the first blow. If City have enjoyed an incredible five trophies in 2023, by stretching back a month further, Alvarez could point to a sixth, the ultimate prize of the World Cup having been secured not far from here, in Qatar.

To their credit, Fluminense weren’t rattled. They simply settled into their precise and penetrating – even at times seemingly perilous – passing patterns. Guardiola prepared his team pre-match to take on a team “we've never faced like that” before, and Fluminense’s enterprise nearly paid off.

German Cano, the Copa Libertadores Golden Boot winner, thought he had sprung City’s offside trap and, as he rounded Ederson, he was felled by the Brazilian goalkeeper. Having pointed initially to the spot, the referee was promptly alerted to the raised flag for offside. Replays showed Cano was a fraction beyond the City back line.

Then, just before the half hour, City made it two. Phil Foden was slipped in down the inside left channel, his attempted square ball deflecting off Fluminense captain Nino and over Fabio. It nestled inside the far post.

Still, Fernando Diniz’s men did not wilt. Perhaps they were stung by that now infamous article in a British newspaper this week, which compared them to a charity side. It cited seven players aged 30 and more, including 43-year-old Fabio and 40 year-old Felipe Melo. Melo mentioned the perceived slur during Thursday’s press briefing.

One of his younger teammates would have dragged back Fluminense into the contest not long from half-time, but Ederson did brilliantly to claw away Jhon Arias’ downward header. At the other end, Fabio rivalled his compatriot by keeping out Jack Grealish’s arcing effort at full stretch.

Fabio was called into action three times more at the beginning of the second half. This time, he repelled Foden, then Alvarez’s rebound, then Foden again.

Sensing a growing frustration among his colleagues, Marcelo was booked for kicking Rico Lewis and was soon substituted. Back at the club where he began his professional career, eons ago in 2005, the former Real Madrid full-back, 35, could conceivably never have another similar opportunity to add to his already generous Club World Cup collection. Like Guardiola, he has a quartet of winner’s medals.

City, though, had title No 5 since May, rounded off by Foden’s sliding finish 18 minutes from time and Alvarez’s final flourish, and irrespective of a flashpoint upon the whistle between Melo and Kyle Walker.

A Premier League, a Uefa Champions League – also a first – an FA Cup, a Uefa Super Cup and, now, a Club World Cup. Seven months to “complete the circle” in Guardiola’s seventh year in charge.

Domestic matters, resuming next Wednesday at Goodison Park when City may be as much as 10 points off the Premier League summit, can wait; the impact of the loss of Rodri, too, late on through injury. On Friday night, Guardiola’s gunslingers were world champions.

Updated: December 22, 2023, 11:29 PM