Los Blancos are ending the year in style – lifting the FIFA Club World Cup title in Abu Dhabi on Saturday seeing them claim a quintuple of silverware for the first time in a calendar year.
Domestically though, Real are eight points behind leaders Barca, down in fourth place. But history was made at Zayed Sports City Stadium, as Real drew level on three Club World Cup titles with the Blaugrana – the famed Spanish rivals jointly hold the most.
In addition, Madrid became the first club to retain the trophy in its current guise.
Adding the Club World Cup to the Champions League, La Liga, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup provides a boost as Real head into the first Clasico clash of the season with Barca on Saturday hoping to reduce the gap – although Germany midfielder Kroos claims he and his colleagues need no special motivation for a “special” game.
“For this game (Clasico) you don’t need anything before, any special motivation,” he said when asked after Saturday’s 1-0 win in the final over Copa Libertadores champions Gremio of the importance of the win heading into the Barca clash.
“It’s better of course to go back to Madrid with a good feeling, but this game is special, whatever happened before.”
Pressed on pursuing Barca in the new year and looking ahead to a mouthwatering Champions League last 16 tie with French giants Paris Saint-Germain in February, the 2014 World Cup winner added: “The secret to more success next year is motivation and hunger.
“We are a little bit behind in the league and maybe we can close the gap in a few days, but we will still be behind so it will be difficult to win the league. But we will try, for sure.
“We have the next round of the Champions League too, which is 50/50, so it will be difficult. We won it back to back but it’s never easy to do. But we will try. That’s all we can do.
“(I’m looking forward to facing PSG) because the experience from the past year is you have to beat the best to win this competition.
“We did last year. We played Bayern (Munich), Atletico Madrid, Juventus, who put out Barcelona. You need to play the best and the best is always a challenge, and I like that.”
Kroos revealed victory in the Emirates was the easiest of the five accolades earned by mighty Madrid this year, but he said glory in the toughest competition, their arduous road to Champions League triumph, led them to the UAE.
“It’s been a special year. Five trophies is crazy. It means a lot because we represent the club and it’s great if you do it in a good way,” said the 27-year-old.
“Maybe at the end you can say this is the easiest title to win, the biggest challenge is to arrive here because you have to win the Champions League.
“At the end of the year though it’s never easy because you have a long trip here, an important game, and the ones beforehand. As always, when you win another trophy, it’s always special.”
Real claimed back to back Club World Cup titles thanks to talisman Cristiano Ronaldo’s sole goal in the capital – a thumping free-kick eight minutes into the second half.
The goal created further history for the Portuguese powerhouse, who stretched his lead at the top of the competition’s highest ever scorers.
Ronaldo, 32, has seven goals in eight Club World Cup matches – two more than Barca duo Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, and Monterrey’s Cesar Delgado.
Ronaldo was criticised by Argentine great Maradona and even Gremio coach Renato Portaluppi leading into the Club World Cup – ex-Brazil international Portaluppi claiming the five-time Balon d’Or winner was not a better player than him.
But Kroos laughed off criticism of his teammate.
“I don’t know what they said but this is good for the press,” said Kroos.
“At the end we know on the pitch he tries to help us and score. He did this in both matches and we don’t need to speak about how important he is for us.”
Portugal forward Ronaldo, this year voted Best FIFA Men’s Player and winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or award for a fifth time, got the only goal of the game after 53 minutes with a superb free-kick.
Substitute Vazquez told his club’s official website after the Abu Dhabi success: “Before the game, I told Cristiano I was sure he was going to score and that’s why he ran to me for the celebration.
“We’re thrilled. It’s a team success and I hope we can improve on it in 2018.”
Proud!!! Champions of the world ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/HpRRty01r2
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) December 16, 2017
The forward’s sentiments were echoed by his team-mates after Real retained their title, making sure of a fifth trophy of 2017 following success in LaLiga, the Champions League, Spanish Super Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
France defender Raphael Varane added: “It has not been easy. You have to congratulate the whole team. Winning five titles is very complicated.
“We know how difficult it is to win these finals, we are very happy. We know this team has talent and we will continue to fight to win more titles.”
Germany international Toni Kroos said: “This year has been a long journey, but we had a challenge and knew we could do this.”
For fellow midfielder Casemiro, the latest success was a dream come true.
The Brazilian explained: “When I arrived at Real Madrid I was hungry to win titles. That was my dream, I wanted to write my story in the best possible fashion – and I’ve won 10 already.
“I’m motivated to keep working hard and I hope there are many more to come. I’d sign up now to finish every year just like this. It’s been a wonderful year.”
“We had to really dig deep to win this Club World Cup. We put in a complete performance and we have to congratulate the players because we were up against a good team in Gremio, who I know well from Brazil.
“I never imagined I’d win so many trophies when I came to Real Madrid but I did dream about it, so that’s why it’s such an honour to be part of this team.
“We’ve had a wonderful year and the dressing room has been a happy place. We need to keep making history and enjoying this team because we’ve got a great squad.”
Acknowledging the contribution of Ronaldo, the 25-year-old added: “It’s a young but experienced group, with the best player in the world as well. We have to keep enjoying ourselves.”
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.