Ronaldo plays most convincing match of season to lift lacklustre Real Madrid
Real Madrid advanced to the final of the FIFA Club World Cup with a 2-0 win over Club America on Thursday. In a lacklustre display, only a handful of Madrid's players seemed remotely close to their usual selves.
While Zinedine Zidane's side looked a bit slow and perhaps sleepy after the long trip to Japan, America played a hard, competitive match. However, the Mexican team's lack of inspiration in the final third and the skill of Madrid's forwards decided the outcome of the match.
On Sunday, the UEFA Champions League titleholders will play for their fifth Club World Cup title against Kashima Antlers.
A result with a rare clean sheet. Lucas Vazquez looked tireless and immune to jet lag or kicks from opposing defenders. Cristiano Ronaldo played probably his most satisfying 90 minutes of the season. The team keep scoring in added time -- they managed to do so at the end of both halves -- which is a good sign of focus. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric appear as determined to attack as ever when Casemiro takes care of the defensive side of midfield.
Madrid played at an appalling rhythm for most of the match. Their passing was off during long spells and there was no movement up front or down the flanks. Only Club America's naivety with the ball prevented the Mexican side from taking the lead. It took too long for Madrid to finish off the match against blatantly inferior opposition.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Zidane used his best starting XI with the players available, which sent a clear message: this title is a priority. He also gave James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata some needed playing time.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- Did well against America's innocent strikers and finally got a clean sheet.
DF Daniel Carvajal, 6 -- Was as participative and intense as usual, but did not look very inspired with the ball.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- Imposed his physical advantage over the opposition forwards for the whole match, but was not very clean with his passing.
DF Nacho Fernandez, 7 -- Always delivers. He's become a safe haven for Zidane in almost any position in the back four.
DF Marcelo, 6 -- Was probably the Madrid player who looked the most jet lagged. Did not even look close to his usual dynamic self.
MF Casemiro, 5 -- Was very poor with his distribution in the first 15 minutes, but got a bit better as the match went on. His mere presence allows Modric and Kroos to move forward, but this was a weak performance.
MF Luka Modric, 6 -- Started off slowly, but got going towards the end of the first half. Was less participative than usual, but did leave a couple of gems with the ball.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Ventured forward often, as is usually the case when Casemiro plays. Found Benzema for the opener with a great through ball and was more involved than usual in the final third.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 8 -- Linked up well with Ronaldo and was omnipresent in attack and defence. Has become a starter in his own right.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 -- Broke the deadlock in the last minute of the first half with a lovely finish and had another goal disallowed for offside. Those actions aside, he barely featured in the match. In any case, another determined strike from the Frenchman.
MF Cristiano Ronaldo, 8 -- Some may choose to remember a bizarre failed header in the second half, but this was Ronaldo's most complete match of the season so far. That day off against Deportivo La Coruna gave him fresh legs. He participated in most attacking moves and did not give up until he scored in the final second of the match. A pity the rest of the team did not play with the same intensity.
MF James Rodriguez, 7 -- Replaced Kroos after 72 minutes. Was so eager to play that he almost joined the match before the ref allowed him into the pitch. Assisted Ronaldo for Madrid's second.
FW Alvaro Morata, N/R -- Replaced Benzema after 80 minutes.
Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.