Madrid go head to head with fellow La Liga giants Barcelona in the first Clasico of the Spanish season next week, and Los Blancos warmed up for the famous clash with their fierce rivals by drawing level with them on three FIFA Club World Cup titles on Saturday night.
Ronaldo’s seventh goal in his eighth Club World Cup outing paved the way for more historic success – they become the first side to retain the trophy after victory over Japan’s Kashima Antlers a year ago.
Real and Barca, two great behemoths of the game, have claimed six of the 14 Club World Cups contested since 2000.
On the night, referee Cesar Ramos failed to produce a card in the opening minutes when Gremio captain Pedro Geromel dragged his studs down the back of Cristiano Ronaldo’s right calf.
The game produced little either for the first 20 minutes, Real right-back Dani Carvajal’s ferocious first-time volley the first effort in anger.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) December 16, 2017
Real dominated the ball but were faced a sea of blue whenever they got within sight of goal, Luka Modric flashing an effort wide while Ronaldo hesitated as Walter Kannemann made a crucial tackle.
Gremio’s best effort was a belter from right-back Edilson, his 35-yard free-kick thunderbolt just clearing the crossbar as Keylor Navas scrambled across.
A fairly tame opening stanza was followed by near total dominance by the men in bright white after the interval.
Ronaldo broke the deadlock, much to the delight of the majority inside Zayed Sports City Stadium, eight minutes into it. His free-kick blasted through the tiniest of gaps in the wall and beyond the desperate grasp of Marcelo Grohe.
He would have had two minutes later, but for the linesman wrongly ruling Karim Benzema offside.
The magical Luka Modric rifled a dipping drive that Grohe did well to tip onto his post as relentless Real poured forward.
It was a grim end for Gremio coach Renato Portaluppi, part of the side that won the 1983 Intercontinental Cup, a previous incarnation of the competition – his side managing just one shot all match.
Gareth Bale emerged from the bench late on and his nonchalant effort with the outside of his left boot needed tipping over by Grohe, but it stayed 1-0, as dominant a display as that scoreline has ever looked.
It may not be the glamour Clasico clash with Barcelona they play in La Liga next weekend or hold as much significance as a Champions League final – but Sergio Ramos insists Real Madrid’s illustrious history of success ensures motivation on Saturday won’t be a problem.
Los Blancos face Brazil giants Gremio in Abu Dhabi for a chance to lift a third FIFA Club World Cup crown – one that would see them draw level with fierce foes Barcelona on three world titles.
Ramos, 31, was part of the Madrid teams that won this tournament in both 2014 and 12 months ago. He has won 15 major honours during 12 years with the club and revealed he is always looking to add more.
“When there is a title to play for there is an extra motivation,” said the 149-times capped Spain centre-back.
“It’s a new opportunity for us to go back with another title, our fifth (of the year). As always I want to add more titles to my CV. It’s a new opportunity to re-establish ourselves as champions of the Club World Cup.”
Winning is a habit. Both Ramos and Real are serial winners, and that is something that always motivates the Seville native.
“Our history makes it compulsory for us to be motivated for any match,” he added.
“It takes a lot to be champions of Europe and also this tournament. You have to value this tournament. You have to think of the shirt we are defending and always satisfy our supporters.”
Real can be the first team to defend the Club World Cup title with victory at Zayed Sports City Stadium, and add it to the La Liga, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup and UEFA Super Cup trophies they have collected in what has been a stellar 2017.
“It will be a magnificent year, unforgettable for our fans, for us, for Real Madrid’s history,” said Ramos when quizzed how special it would be to become the first repeat world champions.
“The numbers you cannot erase that. You cannot stay with what you’ve done in past. It’s important what we’ve achieved, I hope we can enjoy as many titles in the future as what we’ve this year.”
His comments were echoed by his manager Zinedine Zidane at Real’s press conference, the Frenchman, another serial winner, adding that he and his players are keen to add to the club’s success.
“Madrid’s history is important but the good thing that we have, all of us, all the people who work for this team, we all know the most important thing is the day after,” said Zidane, 45.
“We always want to make history for this club. So we’re going to show respect for this team (Gremio), we’re going to try and win the trophy. We have that every day, not only myself as a manager but the players.
“Our motivation is the dream to achieve another title, we are here for that. It’s a dream for us to go back with a trophy. We’re here to defend our title.”
Meanwhile, it’s been a stuttering season so far for Real’s Welsh wonder Gareth Bale.
But the former Tottenham flyer was the man who got Madrid to this point, emerging from the substitute’s bench on Wednesday and scoring within a minute to break Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira’s brave resistance as Real came from a goal down to win 2-1.
And despite having endured a chequered injury past during his four years with Los Blancos, Bale has always enjoyed the backing of his manager, who says he is ready for Saturday’s game.
Zidane said: “I am very happy for Bale but also for the team. I’m happy that he’s training with us regularly which is important for the player and for us.
“We have been here together, I see him very happy with the players, teammates and then we will see his evolution. Tomorrow it’s a final and he’s ready.”
Gremio will be underdogs coming into this match – a third final involving teams from Spain and Brazil, the Club World Cup’s two most successful nations having won nine of the 13 trophies since first held in 2000.
But coach Renato Portaluppi insists his side have not come to the UAE for a “picnic”.
“They (Gremio players) came to play for 90 or 120 minutes and you can rest assured they will give their all, and sweat,” said Portaluppi, whose side won this year’s Copa Libertadores to qualify for the Club World Cup.
“What Real want to achieve, we also want to achieve. They will have to play well against us. We know about their potential and quality. They are favourites but we did not come for a picnic.”
Portaluppi, a former Roma forward who earned 41 Brazil caps between 1983-93, won the Copa Libertadores as a player in 1983 with Gremio as well as that year’s Intercontinental Cup – an earlier version of the Club World Cup, played between the UEFA and CONMEBOL champions.
And the 55-year-old admits it would be special to win this and the Copa Libertadores as both a player and coach.
“I can be a champion in and out of the field. As a young guy I thought just about playing and winning, now am responsible for whole team,” he said.
“We have already won the Copa Libertadores and now I hope to achieve this as a trainer too. I have a fantastic group, with fantastic qualities and I would be incredibly happy if we win.
“The next game is always the biggest. We have come from the Copa Libertadores which was a marvelous campaign and it’s been a marvelous year. Now this is the biggest game.
“It means a lot in the brain of the players to be in the Club World Cup final, and playing in the Copa Libertadores the players knew it would lead us here. It is the biggest game in my life and for the players.
“We are coming here with a lot of respect to our adversary, but we believe we can win.”
Zinedine Zidane‘s men enjoyed a light session under the lights of their New York University Abu Dhabi training base in the UAE capital, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo involved in a keep-ball session.
Watch Real train in the video below:
— Real Madrid C.F.🇬🇧 (@realmadriden) December 15, 2017