Real Madrid will be hoping to lift the FIFA Club World Cup for a record 4th time when they meet Al Ain at Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium on Saturday
The 15th edition of FIFA Club World Cup will culminate on Saturday, with the top four positions being decided. The final will feature Real Madrid for the fourth time in five years, with the European champions taking on surprise contenders for Al Ain at Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
The FIFA Club World Cup holders may have been highly inconsistent this season. But, their 3-1 win over Kashima Antlers earlier this week suggested that Los Blancos might just be rediscovering their mojo, as they comfortably swept aside the AFC Champions League winners without ever getting out of second gear.
Al Ain, on the other hand, shocked one and all when they overcame River Plate, who were the favourites to progress to the final, in penalty shoot-outs to reach the FIFA Club World Cup final on their first try. But, in doing so, the UAE champions have highlighted the beauty of football, showing that there are no foregone conclusions in the game.
Saturday’s tie will be the first time Real Madrid will face off against Al Ain, who are set for the biggest night in their history. Ahead of the first meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the FIFA Club World Cup final.
Team News & Tactics
Santiago Solari is sweating over the fitness of a couple of players, with Marco Asensio picking up a thigh injury last time out against Kashima Antlers, and Mariano Diaz still shrugging off the effects of his hamstring injury. In addition to the duo, Nacho is unlikely to take the field as he continues recovering from a knee injury.
Despite the three possible absentees, Solari has ample cover within his squad to compensate for the trio. At the back, there are no major problems whatsoever for the Real Madrid boss, with the first-choice quartet of Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo going strong. Behind them, Thibaut Courtois should start again.
In midfield, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are certain starters, with the duo set to be the chief creators for the FIFA Club World Cup holders. Casemiro made a cameo appearance against Kashima Antlers, but is still evidently lacking the sharpness, having played a part in the goal that the J1 League outfit had scored.
As a result, Marcos Llorente should continue holding on to his holding midfield spot, having barely put a foot wrong since becoming a regular in the side. Up ahead in attack, Gareth Bale, the hat-trick hero from the last match, and Karim Benzema are certain starters.
Lucas Vazquez seems to have nailed down the final spot in the side, although Isco, who faces an uncertain Real Madrid future, gave Solari something to think about last time out. Lucas though, should start against Al Ain, with the manager valuing his work rate.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Modric, Llorente, Kroos; Lucas Vazquez, Benzema, Bale
Zoram Mamic has no injury concerns whatsoever ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup final against Real Madrid. The fitness situation has been another major positive for the most successful side in UAE, in a campaign that has given the Al Ain boss a lot to be buoyant about.
The former Croatia head coach also seems to have most of his preferred eleven set, which has eliminated a lot of uncertainties that come with constant tinkering. UAE international Khalid Eisa is the Al Ain no. 1, with the 29-year-old set to be a busy man in goal against the rampaging Real Madrid attack.
One of the few slots that have been mired in some uncertainty is that of captain Ismail Ahmed’s partner at the heart of the Al Ain defence, which has reflected in their suspect showings at the back. Mohammed Fayez seems to have nailed down that spot for now, with Mohanad Salem the alternative to the 29-year-old.
Out wide though, Tsukasa Shiotani and Mohamed Ahmad are automatic selections, with the duo focusing more on keeping things tight at the back than embarking on constant marauding runs. Amer Abdulrahman and Mohamed Abdulrahman are likely to be the box-to-box midfielders who will aim to link up defence with attack, while Ahmed Barman will aim to hold fort in front of the backline.
Up ahead in attack, the front trio are nailed on, with Sweden international Marcus Berg leading the line for Al Ain, ably supported by Caio and Hussein Al Shahat. Berg will carry the biggest threat against Real Madrid, with the experienced striker scoring 44 goals in 45 appearances for Al Ain.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Eisa; Shiotani, Fayez, Ismail Ahmed, Ahmad; Mohamed Abdulrahman, Barman, Amer Abdulrahman; El Shahat, Berg, Caio
- Saturday’s tie will be the first ever meeting between Real Madrid and Al Ain.
- Real Madrid have faced UAE opposition previously in the form of Al Jazira, beating them 2-1 in last year’s FIFA Club World Cup semi-final.
- Al Ain are participating in the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time, and are naturally unbeaten in their three previous outings in the competition, although they have needed penalty shoot-outs to prevail on two occasions.
- Real Madrid can become the most successful side in FIFA Club World Cup history if they win on Saturday to lift the trophy for the fourth time. They are currently tied with Barcelona on three triumphs.
- Gareth Bale has the chance to become the most prolific player in FIFA Club World Cup history. Former Real Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo (7) is the only player to have scored more goals than the Welshman (6) in the competition.
Player to Watch
Marcus Berg was an appealing option for this segment. But, with Gareth Bale having the chance to make some history against Al Ain, the Welshman took the cake. The 29-year-old has had a knack of scoring important goals for Real Madrid over the last five years or so, and the hat-trick against Kashima Antlers only continued that run.
Bale now needs just two goals to become the outright top scorer in FIFA Club World Cup history, and a vulnerable Al Ain defence should give him the chance to extend his impressive record in the latter stages of knockout competitions. History awaits the Welsh superstar.
Real Madrid 3-1 Al Ain
Kashima Antlers were resolute for the most part against Real Madrid last time out. But, as the defending FIFA Club World Cup champions showed in the semi-final, their quality eventually shines through. Al Ain though, will hope to have something to say about that, especially after overcoming the River Plate challenge with aplomb.
But, the hosts’ vulnerable defence leaves much to be desired, although they will aim to put the Real Madrid defender under the cosh as well. In the end, however, the European champions should have enough quality to outclass the surprise finalists, with Gareth Bale hoping to create history as well.
The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Real Madrid, who will become the most successful side in FIFA Club World Cup history in the process.