Abu Dhabi: Gareth Bale’s supreme form would have sent alarm bells rings in host Al Ain’s camp ahead of their dream final against Real Madrid in the Fifa Club World Cup at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Wednesday.
The Wales striker was simply exceptional on the night against Japanese club Kashima Antlers — scoring a hat-trick in the side’s 3-1 win. Bale gave a clear indication that he is in the best of shape and ready to fill in the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo. He now has six World Club Cup goals to his name and is one behind Ronaldo’s record of seven.
Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari hailed Bale’s heroics but also urged the forward to continue in the same vein and keep leading the team from the front.
“He was blowing everything out of the water: the lights, the nets, the stands. He had a spellbinding match, and showed who he is and what he is capable of,” said a delighted Solari adding that he was banking on a repeat performance from him in the final against Al Ain.
“Now he needs to rest up and do it all again in the next match. It was a solid and serious performance from the whole group. We went into the game with our head screwed on. We need do it all over again on Saturday,” said Solari, whose side are struggling in the fourth position in La Liga.
The Argentine became Real’s second coach of the season after Julen Lopetegui was sacked in October. When asked if a player of Bale’s quality needed any extra piece of advice from the coach, he said: “Football is about the players. Those of on the sidelines try to help. But the person responsible for great performances is the player. Gareth gave his best, but has already given real joy to Real Madrid fans. He did it with his goals, which is what wins you football matches. Goals dominate football and Gareth knows how to score them. It is hard for him to score three goals each game, but he always gives his everything to the game.”
Solari also backed defender Marcelo, who was a shadow of his usual self in the outing against Kashima, to keep improving in the coming games.
“It’s bound to have been an irregular season with all the injuries. He needs a bit of continuity to play his way into form,” said the manager. “I don’t think this is the best we’ve seen from Marcelo, he played very well, but I hope he’s even better in the final.
“He’s a wonderful player and he has to keep pushing himself, both going forward and in defence. I’ll make sure he does so, though it’s difficult because he’s an extremely offensive player and he did a superb job.”
Having won their semi-final comfortably, Solari was upbeat about his team’s chances against hosts Al Ain, who created a big stir in the footballing fraternity by shocking Argentine giants River Plate in the semis to create history.
“We don’t have a lot of time to prepare, less than our rivals do in fact,” said Solari. “We will have to look at basic aspects of the rivals’ game and pick up the energy. In the Club World Cup, you cannot dwell on surprises.”
Solari said he was not at all shocked by Al Ain’s showing in the semis against River.
“I’m not surprised, they’re a competitive side,” he said. “Nobody gets to this final without playing well. They’ve scored a lot of goals and beat their rivals in New Zealand’s Wellington and River Plate. They deserve to be in the final and we’ll have to be just as competitive if we’re going to win the title.”
Bale who walked away with the Player of the Match award, said: “It was important to win the game and get to the finals. We had to be professional and work hard to win and I’m happy with the victory. It’s great on a personal level but most important is to help the team to reach the finals.”
Kashima coach Go Oiwa was of the view that his side paid the price for not taking the chances that came their way.
“Soon after the start we had chances, but we couldn’t finish,” he said. “If we scored the result would have been different. We let the momentum go, we gave the psychological advantage to our opponents once we allowed them to take the lead. I am disappointed. I take the responsibility for winning and losing. We could have controlled the game better, but our attacking players spent more time defending, which effected heavily and as a result, we didn’t have enough attacking play.”