- Solari won the Intercontinental Cup in 2002
- Now aiming to lift the Club World Cup trophy as a coach
- Real Madrid face Al Ain in the final on 22 December
An ardent fan of the competition, Santiago Solari used to miss school to watch the finals of the early 1990s. Having won the Intercontinental Cup as a player, he is now gunning for FIFA Club World Cup glory as a coach.
"I love the competition. I love the idea of bringing all the confederation champions together," said the smiling Real Madrid coach, in conversation with FIFA.com. "When I was 13 or 14 I’d play truant to go and watch the matches in the bar, because they were on at eight in the morning. It took several months for those dreams to take shape, to think about taking on Europe’s big guns. But it was only once a year, so I didn’t miss that much school."
|Final:||Real Madrid - Al Ain|
|Where:||Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi|
|When:||22 Dec 2018 - 20:30 Local time|
Recalling the finals he remembers most vividly, Solari picked out one straightaway: "The game River won with an Antonio Alzamendi goal. I was very young." That match was the 1986 Intercontinental Cup against Steaua Bucharest. Solari, who was ten at that time, reeled off the rest in almost chronological order: "The one Porto won against Penarol, Nacional’s win, Milan’s victories, Crvena Zvezda’s, Velez Sarsfield’s…"
Did you know?
- 1996: Solari played for River Plate in the Intercontinental Cup against Juventus. Los Millonarios lost 1-0 to an Alessandro Del Piero goal.
- 2002: The Argentinian won the Intercontinental Cup with Real Madrid, with goals from Ronaldo and Guti giving them a 2-0 victory over Paraguay’s Olimpia.
- 2009: He finished third in the Club World Cup with Mexico’s Atlante.
Though he was especially delighted to have lifted the trophy in 2002, Solari was quick to point out that the credit for Real Madrid reaching the final at UAE 2018 should go to the players.
"This final is down to a group of players who’ve won the Champions League yet again," he said. "It’s a fantastic achievement and to go and win it for the third year running is an amazing feat. This is their reward. They want to win it and we just go along with that."
The team awaiting them in Saturday’s final are a surprise package, to say the least.
Solari and the Club World Cup
Santiago Solari of Atlante tackles Pedro Rodriguez of FC Barcelona during the FIFA Club World Cup
02 Dec 2018
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 16: Santiago Solari of Atlante tackles Pedro Rodriguez of FC Barcelona during the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final match between Atlante and Barcelona at the t the Zayed Sports City stadium on December 16, 2009 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Christof Koepsel - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Players of Spanish club team Real Madrid celebrate their victory over Paragua's Olimpia
07 Oct 2018
Players of Spanish club team Real Madrid celebrate their victory over Paragua's Olimpia during an award ceremony for the Toyota Cup, Europe/South America football club championship in Yokohama 03 December 2002. Spain's Real Madrid defeated Paragua's Olympia 2-0. AFP PHOTO/Kazuhiro NOGI KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP
Santiago Solari, Manager of Real Madrid attends the post match press conference
20 Dec 2018
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 19: Santiago Solari, Manager of Real Madrid attends the post match press conference after victory in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final match between Kashima Antlers and Real Madrid at Zayed Sports City Stadium on December 19, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by David Ramos - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
© Getty Images
River Plate forward Enzo Francescoli (C) battles for a ball with Juventus midfielder Didier Deschamps
02 Dec 2018
River Plate forward Enzo Francescoli (C) battles for a ball with Juventus midfielder Didier Deschamps (L) during the 17th Toyota European/South American Cup in Tokyo's national stadium 26 November. European champion Juventus of Italy beat South American champion River Plate by 1-0. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP
© Getty Images
Real Madrid's players take part in a training session
09 Dec 2018
Real Madrid's players take part in a training session two days before the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final football match Real Madrid x Kashima Antlers at New York University Abu Dhabi's stadium in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi on December 17, 2018. GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP
© Getty Images
"It’s a final; it doesn’t matter who the opponents are," he said. "If they got this far, then it’s for a reason. They’ve won three matches to get here and have scored a lot of goals too. We have to give the very best account of ourselves if we’re going to win."
Host club Al Ain, who qualified for the competition by winning the UAE league title, defeated Team Wellington, Esperance and River Plate, no less, to set up a final against the European champions.
As a River fan, how did the Real Madrid coach react to their semi-final defeat? Was he sorry to see the club where started out fall short, or was there a sense of relief at avoiding them in the final?
"I can’t hide my feelings," he replied. "I played for River for many years and I’m delighted at all their achievements, but I’m here as Real Madrid coach and I want to make sure things go well for my team. All I’m thinking about right now is the final, which will be tough because there are no easy games in football these days."