Yet another trophy and gala moment was earned on Saturday night as the Portugal superstar’s impudent free-kick found a gap in the Gremio wall and sent the partisan Zayed Sports City crowd into rapture.
With it, European football’s defining side swept to successive Club World Cup triumphs and earned a fifth piece of silverware in 2017 – the most in its storied history.
Reaching new landmarks for Madrid is no simple task. Often forgotten in this equation is Zinedine Zidane, whose made incredible achievements look effortless there as a player and now head coach.
For a man of such majestic gifts on the ball, it is remarkable how his greatest talent in the dugout – although he is rarely there, his focus on the touchline being as sharp as his suit – is simplifying the game. Whether in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation, he has unpicked the latent gifts of emerging Spain superstar Isco and kept the evergreen Ronaldo in condition to claim a fifth Ballon d’Or.
Yet this stoic approach also counts against him as the vultures hover in the midst of a stuttering title defence in La Liga. Talk throughout Madrid’s hyped stint in the Emirates has gravitated towards this Saturday’s latest edition of El Clasico when Barcelona visit the Spanish capital, and the long-term repercussions of a negative result.
The CWC can seem like an afterthought for sides on the old continent. But victory in it adds to the gargantuan weight of success and must hand Zidane that rarest of gifts under erratic president Florentino Perez – time.
Time for relative failure. Time to rebuild and time to secure even more silverware in the seasons ahead.
Criticism for predictable tactics, a lack of nuance and continued loyalty to misfiring French striker Karim Benzema – booed off in successive scoreless appearances in Abu Dhabi – have been present. Yet it is churlish to believe Zidane has held a titular position during this glorious spell in Madrid’s history.
His placid demeanour can raise ire, especially in contrast to the frenetic Pep Guardiola or dramatic Jose Mourinho.
It remained in the Emirates as the CWC enjoyed a successful return to the UAE for the first time in seven years.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) December 16, 2017
Los Blancos held off a spirited Al Jazira in the semi-finals and then kept charged Copa Libertadores holders Gremio on a tight leash at a sold-out and electric Zayed Sports City.
No panic, no fuss. Zidane calmly urged his celebrated players on, the only visible frustration coming from poor control by Spain right-back Dani Carvajal in the final throes against the Brazilians.
The warmth afforded to him by each one on the pitch in the aftermath of the final whistle spoke volumes. Icons such as Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos are not easily impressed – the eight trophies won in two years under their current supremo are obviously cherished by them.
Madrid now head home to face the impending possibility of a 12-point deficit to hated domestic rivals. Even if this is their fate, Zidane’s destiny should tie him to Santiago Bernabeu for many years to come.
Keylor Navas – 6
He might have expected to have busier nights in a final, but the keeper was presented with nothing to trouble him, other than a few routine catches.
Dani Carvajal – 7
A rock on the right for Real, the marauding full-back offered plenty going forward and came closest to breaking the first-half deadlock, a perfectly planted volley that needed clearing on the line
Raphael Varane – 6
Calm and composed alongside his captain. Went on one mazy run in the opening period but failed to produce a finish when working himself into space.
Sergio Ramos – 6
Little to do for the Real skipper other than lift the Club World Cup trophy at the final whistle. Marshalled Lucas Barrios well, forcing him off in the second after an ineffective performance.
Marcelo – 7
Was a ball of energy down the left flank, busily offering himself as an outlet going forward. Kept Gremio’s lively wingers under control.
Luka Modric – 8
The crafty Croat was his usual bundle of creativity, probing any gaps in the Gremio half. Flashed a fierce left-footed drive inches wide and pulled the strings.
Casemiro – 7
The tigerish midfielder was typically dominant, breaking up anything that resembled an attack from Gremio. Kept wonderkid Luan in check as Gremio failed to flow.
Toni Kroos – 7
The German was predictably efficient as he patrolled the area in front of defence and dictated play along with Modric. His first action at the tournament and he was commanding.
Isco – 7
Floated effortlessly across the pitch as he looked for holes in the opposition defence. Started ahead of Gareth Bale and is now a mainstay of Zinedine Zidane’s starting teams.
Karim Benzema – 6
Has his critics but the Frenchman did little wrong here with a solid performance. Would have had a deserved assist but for being wrong called offside when teeing up Cristiano Ronaldo.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 8
Came into the tournament on the back of a fifth Ballon d’Or, seeing him go level with Lionel Messi, but his crucial goal sees him top the Club World Cup all-time scoring charts.
Lucas Vazquez – 6
Little time to make an impact but did his work diligently. Lucky not to get booked late on for an unsporting dive attempting to win Real a penalty.
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.