Real Madrid have won five titles in a calendar year for the first time in the club’s history after a comfortable 1-0 victory over Gremio in the Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi. Cristiano Ronaldo scored the only goal of the game with a free kick after 53 minutes.
Los Blancos have not lost an international final since falling to defeat against Boca Juniors in 2000 in the then-named Intercontinental Cup, a winning run that stretches 12 matches.
Real Madrid became the first team to win consecutive Club World Cups since Sao Paolo in 1993, when the tournament existed in a different format.
Pedro Geromel’s early “welcome-to-the-game tackle” on Cristiano Ronaldo did not set the tone for Gremio’s approach. Thereafter, the South American champions were combative but not thuggish. With Barcelona visiting the Bernabeu next weekend, it was important that Madrid emerged from the final without a queue forming at the door of the treatment room.
Karim Benzema’s continued bluntness is beginning to pose issues for Zinedine Zidane. The striker is in the team due to the coach’s loyalty, rather than merit, at the moment.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — Zidane has managed Real Madrid in seven finals and won all of them, that equates to one title every 14 matches. That cannot be down to chance. He returned to the 4-4-2 diamond formation that he deployed in the Champions League final in Cardiff. It stifled Gremio in midfield and limited their opportunities to counterattack.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 6 — Gremio had one shot and it wasn’t on target. He didn’t excel, nor did he do anything wrong. Spend swathes of the match twiddling his thumbs.
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 — Final ball often wasteful, but dealt well with Fernandinho, who showed in the Copa Libertadores final in Lanus that he is capable of punishing defensive slackness.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 — Usually uses his pace to provide defensive cover. Madrid’s dominance allowed him to apply it to galloping runs forward from the centre of defence. “It wasn’t easy, but we worked hard,” he said in flowing Spanish at full time.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 — The captain played with the aid of painkilling injections. He was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty at the start of the second half for a clumsy tackle on Ramiro and then, ironically, picked up the Fair Play award in the ceremony after the final whistle.
DF Marcelo, 7 — Played an important role in attack, with 52.8 percent of Real Madrid’s play coming down the left side of the pitch, compared to 25.5 percent on the right.
MF Casemiro, 7 — Booked for an wince-inducing late challenge on Luan. Continued to pursue Gremio’s talented No.7 like an overzealous terrier, and he looked destined for a second booking and subsequent suspension for the clasico. Yet he walked the disciplinary tightrope well in the second half.
MF Luka Modric, 8 — On a pitch full of Brazilians, Modric looked the most Brazilian of all with his swaggering style of play. Unleashed a fierce shot just after the hour mark that the Gremio ‘keeper could only parry off his post.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 — Was not afraid to join Casemiro in treating Luan like a blue-shirted pinata if he saw fit to commit a tactical foul. Thanks to his victory with Bayern Munich in 2013, the Germany international has won the Club World Cup four times.
MF Isco, 6 — Played in his favoured No. 10 position, fluttering around in the space between Gremio’s defence and attack. Linked up play nicely but lacked incision.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 — Drew level with Pele as the joint-top scorer in the history of the Club World Cup/Intercontinental Cup (seven goals) through a fortuitous free kick that although well struck, relied on the incompetence of Gremio’s defensive wall. Found the net soon after with an empathic finish but it was ruled out as Benzema had drifted offside.
FW Karim Benzema, 5 — Received backing from Diego Maradona before the final. It did him no good. He huffed, puffed, and failed to contribute meaningfully to the attack.
MF Lucas Vazquez, NR — Added an injection of energy but not a great deal of quality on the ball.
FW Gareth Bale, NR — Took the place of the ineffectual Benzema with 10 minutes remaining. The perfect player to introduce when the opposition are pushing for an equaliser.
Matt McGinn is ESPN FC’s Real Madrid blogger. Twitter: @McGinn93