Spain boss Luis Enrique believes Isco's quality is undeniable

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Isco

Real Madrid midfielder Isco has not enjoyed the best of starts to the 2018-19 season. After being ruled out due to an appendix injury, the Spaniard has struggled for playing time under new coach Santiago Solari.

However, the former Malaga man can find some solace in what Spain boss Luis Enrique had to say about him.

“I like him a lot and he was at a really high level at the World Cup,” Luis Enrique said when asked about Isco at the Premios Quini awards night in Gijon.

“His quality is undeniable.

“His form and minutes will determine his chances [of being called up to the next squad], but I have already called him up many times so you can look at my actions more than my words.

“Right now it is December and there are three months until the next squad list.”

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Santiago Solari issues Gareth Bale a challenge after 'perfect' Club World Cup hat-trick

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Real Madrid head coach Santiago Solari has challenged Gareth Bale to ally consistency with an undoubted attacking prowess after his “perfect” trio of goals earned a 3-1 semi-final win against Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup.

Bale, 29, emphatically struck three times either side of half-time in Abu Dhabi and was then removed as a precaution on the hour mark because of a draining ankle issue. This hat-trick acts as the highlight of a campaign in which he’d previously struggled to carry the mantle left by the summer transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus.

“We all expect these performances from him,” said Solari, whose competition holders now meet host-club Al Ain on Saturday as they chase a fourth global crown in five editions. “Every Sunday, every Wednesday, every time we play.

“It is not easy to score three goals every game. But it is not just the goals – it is the commitment.

“He had it in the last few games. Today, everything was perfect.

“He could achieve this as he was committed before.”

Kashima offered familiarity for Los Blancos, courtesy of 2016’s dramatic CWC final between them that was settled by Ronaldo’s hat-trick.

Imminent opponents Al Ain, however, represent the unknown.

The Arabian Gulf League winners have caused shocks against Esperance de Tunis and River Plate – the club for whom winger Solari made his playing debut in 1996. He predicted a testing match against them.

“I expect them to be competitive, of course,” said the 42-year-old.

“No one can arrive into the Club World Cup’s final without being competitive. They scored many goals, every game.

“They beat the team from New Zealand [Team Wellington] and then they beat River Plate. They are in the final because they deserve it.

“We have to be as competitive as we were today to win the trophy.”

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Gareth Bale and Marcelo pairing lights up forgettable Club World Cup win for Real Madrid

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Wales superstar Gareth Bale belied his pre-match fitness worries to fire a fine hat-trick in a 3-1 Club World Cup semi-final triumph against Japan’s Kashima Antlers, teeing up a decider with hosts Al Ain on Saturday.

A drab first half at a subdued Zayed Sports City – for a repeat of 2016’s rollercoaster showpiece – came to life in the 44th minute when Bale was played in by Marcelo and he lashed in from a tight angle. Two goals in three second-half minutes followed, first slotting into an open goal and then rocketing into the top corner.

Kashima forward Shoma Doi’s effort under Thibaut Courtois, allowed thanks to the video assistant referee’s intervention, added barely deserved gloss for the AFC Champions League holders.

Here is the report card:

GOOD

Doi’s delight: On a disappointing night for Kashima, Doi managed to take some personal satisfaction towards the end.

The 26-year-old excels in the Club World Cup. He got three assists in 2016’s run to defeat in the final, while he was man of the match in last week’s come-from-behind win against Guadalajara.

His finish, this time, was assured in ZSC. At least that’s something to take for Kashima, for whom Doi’s strike partner Serginho disappointed.

Left leaning: Madrid’s left-hand side was lit up by Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo for almost a decade, prior to the former’s sale to Juventus this summer.

The Brazil left-back’s relationship hasn’t burst into life with Bale – that was before Wednesday night.

A pair of superb passes, one instinctive and the other patiently timed, put Bale in for chances that he superbly dispatched.

This sight must become more frequent for Los Blancos’ wider ambitions to be met.

BAD

History couldn’t be corrected: Uncertainty defined Kashima in the face of their mission for revenge.

The near miss in 2016 against Madrid still stings Japan’s great club. It was spoken of in the build-up and you expected something from Go Oiwa’s men.

Instead, they seemed overawed. South Korea centre-back Jung Seung-hyun was particularly shaky, while they really could have done with Yuma Suzuki and Kento Misao – both were 2018 AFC Players of the Year nominees.

Although another chance may soon come around, if talk of an expanded 24-team CWC becomes real.

Ronaldo is missed: A near capacity crowd flooded into the revamped ZSC when Real came to town. No surprises there.

But the exit of Ronaldo, so decisive in the last two editions, was felt in a dull atmosphere.

The Portugal icon adds a degree of lustre only Barcelona rival Lionel Messi can match. In La Liga, it’s even been blamed for a drop in average Santiago Bernabeu attendances.

This CWC was also diminished by his absence.

KEY MOMENTS

44th min GOAL: This is what Madrid are all about. Ballon d’Or holder Luka Modric exchange passes out wide. The ball then comes to Marcelo, whose exquisite pass sends Bale through to fire in an unstoppable low shot.

53rd MIN GOAL: Oh dear, oh dear. Left-back Shuto Yamamoto dangerously passes in field, centre-back Jung Seung-hyun panics and it leaves Bale with an open goal. Thank you, very much.

55th min GOAL: Marcelo finds the ball, centrally, on the edge of the penalty box. He waits for the perfect moment to slip in Bale, to smash high into the far corner. Emphatic.

78th min GOAL: The video assistant referee is needed to rule that a Kashima player wasn’t offside at the start of a move that witnessed a deft low finish from Doi.

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

Going with the big guns

Madrid are settled in their ways under new head coach Santiago Solari, in what is a particular contrast to the days when Zinedine Zidane would test out new shapes and styles with regularity.

A 4-3-3 was also going to be picked by the Argentine. What surprised was the personnel he chose to fill it.

Bale and ex-France striker Karim Benzema have been carrying knocks, while the Sergio Ramos-Raphael Varane centre-back axis wasn’t broken up.

It was also a shame that emerging Brazilian flyer Vinicius Junior didn’t get a few minutes to impress in the UAE capital. This may still come in the weekend showpiece.

The control offered by Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, Marcos Llorente and Toni Kroos was key to constricting an attack-minded Kashima, who like to bomb on in a 4-4-2. Only Llorente is not a guaranteed starter from this trio.

VERDICTS

Kashima Antlers – C

Kashima talked a good game before this last-four tie, but singularly failed to deliver.

Head coach Oiwa was a picture of frustration as his side floundered. A strong response against River Plate in Saturday’s fight for third place is needed.

Real Madrid – B

Bale’s exploits, alone, lift Madrid’s score.

His eye for goal was key to see off limited Kashima. Madrid looked well short of their best, something they hope can be blamed on travelling rather than Solari’s underwhelming impact.

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