Abu Dhabi: A hat-trick by Gareth Bale saw Real Madrid handed Asian Champions Kashima Antlers 3-1 defeat to set up a title clash with hosts Al Ain in the FIFA Club World Cup at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Wednesday. At half-time Real led 1-0.
A dip in Real Madrid’s performance was the talking point even before they had landed in the UAE. The free flowing football that made Real world beaters and made fans watch in awe maybe missing at the La Liga or Champions League but in the Club World Cup, they can still marvel.
The spark of brilliance they were renowned for has undoubtedly taken a firm beating since the departure of Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
But the Bales, Marcelos and the Luca Modrics are geniuses in their own right. And that was too much for the Asian Champions Kashima to handle.
Kashima started positively with their Brazilian striker Serginho sending in a diagonal shot just wide of the far post. Immediately after that, the Japanese club had three players – Shoji Gen, Serginho and Seunghyun Jung charging in to reach for a corner but they all missed out on nodding the ball home.
Real’s first noteworthy move came in the 10th minute. Karim Benzema tested Kashima goalkeeper Suntae Kwoun with a long range effort from the right but only to see it being negotiated well by the former.
Serginho was once again in the scheme of things in the 20th minute but his final release sailed over the framework.
In the 27th minute, Bale made a fine run into the box and showed his deft touches but he miscued his final effort.
The Tony Kroos and Sergio Ramos also saw their efforts go in vain. Bale kept making though swift runs down the left flank and hurled in those crosses but he lacked support.
And then two minutes from the half time whistle, Bale himself got into the scoring act. He played a perfect give and take with Marcelo before finding the back of the net with a neat placement.
Benzema almost doubled the lead soon after the switch over on a brilliant release from the left by Bale. Though Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun was beaten, defender Yamamoto Shuto saved it from the goal line.
Shuto, however, undid all that good work a minute later, when he sent in a poor back pass only to see it being stolen by Bale before slotting into the open goal.
That goal was enough to take the wind completely from the sails of Kashima. They found themselves trailing 3-0 with Bale scoring again. This time with a breathtaking left-footed effort off a Marcelo release in 55th minute. With that goal, the coach decided to give the Wales striker the breather and amidst the cheer of the fans he left the ground to be replaced by Marco Asensio.
Kashima then salvaged some pride with a goal from Doi Shoma in the 78th minute but only after a VAR to check if the mid-fielder was off-side.
Both teams had met in the 2016 final of the same tournament and the Japanese team had then took the lead on Real. However, this time round they were routed.
If Real can now beat the spirited Al Ain, who are having a dream run, on Saturday then they will be completing a hat-trick of titles in the Club World Cup.