One year after Raja Casablanca’s surprise run to the final of the FIFA Club World Cup, Europe and South America’s representatives have stamped their authority anew and will line in up Saturday’s showpiece match in Marrakech. Though Real Madrid and San Lorenzo were both favourites to advance to the final of Morocco 2014, they have done so in contrasting ways. While the Spanish side made short work of Cruz Azul in another exhibition of their power and prowess, the Argentinians were pushed all the way by tournament revelations Auckland City, reviving memories of their hard-fought Libertadores win by inching to victory in extra time.
Real Madrid-San Lorenzo, Grand Stade de Marrakech, 20 December, 19.30 (local time)
Madrid head into the final having won their previous 21 matches, and are looking for win number 22 to end one of the most glorious years in their history on the highest of notes. Los Blancos have collected three titles to date in 2014 (the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Copa del Rey) and need one more to top their trophy tallies of 1989 and 2002 and to draw level with AC Milan as the most successful side in the history of the Intercontinental Cup/Club World Cup with four titles. Coach Carlo Ancelotti guided Milan to their 2007 triumph and is keen to get his hands on the trophy again, while Toni Kroos is vying for his third world title of the last 12 months, having won the competition last year with Bayern Munich and then the FIFA World Cup™ with Germany in July. After receiving a warm welcome in Morocco, Madrid are hoping to repay the fans’ support with another five-star show and will have James Rodriguez back to help them achieve it - the Colombian ace having recovered from his injury.
While the Spanish favourites have the statistics on their side, San Lorenzo will be out to make up the difference by drawing on the never-say-die spirit Argentinian sides are famed for and which has seen them through many a tight cup tie in the last few months. Following their semi-final scare against Auckland, who outplayed them at times, Edgardo Bauza's charges are confident they can pull off another major achievement to go with their recent successes. Victory in the final would round off an unforgettable year for El Ciclón, who produced comeback after comeback to win the Libertadores, and would also reverse the recent fortunes of Argentinian sides in the competition, with Boca Juniors and Estudiantes losing in the 2007 and 2009 finals respectively. It would also give the country its tenth Intercontinental Cup/Club World Cup title. Though the local fans have already made it clear where their allegiances will lie come Saturday evening, the presence of nearly 10,000 San Lorenzo supporters in the stands will create the kind of atmosphere that their heroes revel in.
79 - the number of goals Real Madrid have scored in their 21-game winning run, an average of 3.8 per match. Cristiano Ronaldo – who could become the fourth player in history to win the Club World Cup with two different teams, having already lifted it with Manchester United in 2008 – has already scored 25 goals in the Spanish league this season, just one fewer than the entire San Lorenzo team have managed in the current Argentinian championship. The insatiable No7 has racked up 61 goals in 2014 so far, eight less than his personal best, achieved last year. After uncharacteristically failing to get on the scoresheet in the semi-finals, the Portuguese star is aiming to become only the third player after Filippo Inzaghi and Lionel Messi to score in two Club World Cup finals.
“It’s been a great year. We’ve won a lot of trophies and it’s been a wonderful year for me too with Real Madrid and France. We want to win this title too so we can keep this superb run of form going and end the year in the way we’ve been dreaming of.” Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema
“We’re not scared of Real Madrid. Obviously, they’re one of the best teams in the world, but we’ll try to do our best. We need to keep things tight at the back, find some space and try to cash in every time we go on the attack. We’re dreaming of ending the tournament with a celebration.” San Lorenzo forward Martin Cauteruccio