Real Madrid have booked their place in the final of the Club World Cup. They beat the Al-Ahly of Egypt and will now play Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, who pulled off a major surprise by defeating the South American champions Flamengo of Brazil in their own semi-final.
Although Real Madrid won comfortably in the end, the match was closer than the 4 – 1 scoreline might suggest.
The format of the competition
The current format of the competition features seven teams: the six champions from the six global confederations plus a team from the host nation, Morocco.
But in this instance, as the African champions already came from Morocco, Wydad Casablanca, the extra spot was already to the runners-up in their tournament, Al Ahly.
The other teams competing were Auckland City representing Oceania, and the Seattle Sounders for CONCACAF (North America, Central America, and the Caribbean).
As the two strongest teams, Flamengo and Real Madrid enter the competition at the semi-final stage only. Al-Ahly beat Auckland in the opening round and went on tom beat the Seattle Sounders in the second, whilst Al Hilal knocked out the home side after a penalty shootout.
It should be noted that this is one of the last Club World Cups that will follow this format.
From 2025 under controversial plans announced by FIFA , it will expand to become a 32-team competition.
Saudis stun Flamengo
Al Hilal’s defeat of Flamengo was a major turn-up for the books and something of an embarrassment to South American football, given that the tournament is taken much more seriously there than in Europe, where it is regarded as an unwanted disruption in the middle of the domestic season.
A penalty gave Al-Hilal an early lead, and although Flamengo then equalised, the Saudis went ahead again through a second penalty, And in conceding it, a South American defender received a second yellow card.
Forced to play with 10 men for the second half, Al-Hilal added a third goal. Flamengo pulled a goal back in injury time, but it was no more than a consolation effort.
Al-Hilal have become the first Saudi side to reach the final of this competition.
Real aiming for fifth Success
Real Madrid, though, have won this competition four times before in its current guise and on three previous occasions when it was known as the Intercontinental Cup and just featured the European and South American champions.
They took the lead before half-time through Vinicius Junior, who is probably happy to be away from Spain at the moment, given the recent racial abuse he has suffered there.
When Federico Valverde doubled the lead on the hour mark, it looked like a comfortable night’s work for the European side.
However, Al Ahly showed their fighting spirit by pulling a goal back from the penalty spot and they had opportunities to equalise, but could not take them.
At the other end, Real missed a great chance to extend their lead in the 87th minute when Mohammed El Shenawy saved Luka Modric’s penalty.
However, two goals in injury time from Rodrygo and substitute Sergio Arribas confirmed the win, even though the final scoreline flattered the Spanish side.
Al-Ahly fall just short again
Al-Ahly are still yet to win against European opposition at this level. They have been regulars in the last four of this competition, but have never yet reached the final.
They have, however, finished third three times in the past and have a chance to make it four when they play Flamengo in the third placed match on Saturday.
Real are favourites
Real will start the heavy favourites when they take on Al-Hilal on Sunday. It has been 11 years since a non-European side won the Cup, and that was Corinthians of Brazil. It has never been won by a team outside of Europe or South America.
And whilst it may not be the most prestigious trophy they will compete for this year, they will still want to win it and bring it home to Madrid because they can then justly call themselves World Champions.
If Al Hilal were to win it, though, it would be another major boost to Arab football following the achievement of Morocco in reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in Qatar.
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