Real Madrid won the Club World Cup by beating Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia in the final in Rabat in an eight goal thriller, emerging 5 – 3 victors on the night.
Al-Hilal were the first Saudi side to reach the final and were bidding to become the first team from outside Europe and South America to win the trophy. They fell short in the end, but they put up a spirited effort,
Real’s win also keeps up Europe’s run in this tournament. Since 2006, European teams have won it every year except once, and that was back in 2012.
This was the penultimate year that the tournament is being played in its current format featuring the winners of the six regional confederation tournaments, plus a representative from the host nation. From 2025 under plans announced by FIFA, it will expand to feature 32 teams.
It will also change from an annual event to one staged every four years, although details of the new competition have yet to be finalised.
Real began strongly and soon found themselves two up with goals from Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde, before Moussa Marega pulled a goal back for the Saudi side.
But when Vinicius Jr set up Karim Benzema to add a third, the match appeared to be as good as over, especially when Valverde found the net again.
The Argentine Luciano Vietto halved the deficit, but Vinicius Jr got his second of the game, before Vietto also got his brace. Al Hilal briefly had hopes of a stirring comeback, but Real used all their big game experience to keep them at bay.
Nevertheless, after Morocco’s run to the World Cup semi-finals, it was another demonstration of the growing power of Arab football.
And with Al-Hilal set to compete with Al-Nassr and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Saudi league title this season, they are set to gain much greater prominence outside the Muslim world.
Pérez equals record
The win was particularly sweet for Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez because it enabled him to equal the record of Santiago Bernabéu (the man whom their stadium is named after) under their respective presidencies.
A controversial figure outside Madrid, not least because he is one of the most ardent backers of the European Super League project, Real have now won 32 trophies during his time in charge of the club – six league titles, two Spanish Cups, six Spanish Super Cups, six Champions Leagues, five UEFA Super Cups and six Club World Cups (five of them in its current format).
Third place play-off
South American champions Flamengo had been stunned by Al-Hilal in their semi-final, but the Brazilians did at least have the consolation of claiming third place in another high scoring match.
They beat the Egyptian side Al-Ahly 4 – 2 in the third place play-off, with Gabriel Barbosa and Pedro both scoring a brace.
Al-Ahly actually came from behind to take the lead, but their cause was hindered with the loss of a man to a straight red card, and Flamengo made numerical superiority count in the end.
Struggle for relevance
Despite Real’s win, their latest triumph counts far more in the rest of the world than it does in Europe, where the competition fails to excite the public imagination.
In part this is due to the timing – the Club World Cup is held at a time when teams are in the middle of their domestic seasons, and is regarded by many as an unwelcome distraction.
And then there is the format of the competition. Only seven teams take part in it, and because the European champions only enter at the semi-final stage, it only takes two victories in order to win it,
There is also the relative uncompetitive nature of the tournament, as demonstrated by the dominance of European teams over the past decade and more.
In reality, most European fans regard the Champions League as far more important, and winning that as the ultimate prize. The Club World Cup is just the cherry on top of the cake, and enables a team to call themselves World Champions for a time.
It is just this indifference that FIFA are hoping to counteract with their plans for the expanded tournament.
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