Real Madrid have proven they can find the net even if they must take the field without talisman Karim Benzema in Saturday’s Club World Cup final against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal in Morocco.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side, reigning European and Spanish champions, are aiming to win the competition for a fifth time and build confidence after a shaky start to 2023.
Madrid captain Benzema missed the semi-final with a thigh injury but is set to train with the squad on Friday before the final.
Los Blancos are already the record four-time winners and are firm favourites to beat Al-Hilal after their 4-1 semi-final victory over Egyptian outfit Al Ahly on Wednesday.
Madrid won the competition under Ancelotti in 2014 during his first stint in charge, as well as in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Fede Valverde lined up in attack and all scored in the triumph, along with youngster Sergio Arribas from the bench.
Madrid were not at their best but the forwards had enough cutting edge to blow past the 10-time African Champions League winners in the final stages.
Ancelotti said Benzema’s injury was not serious, but the coach may choose to begin with the Ballon d’Or holder on the bench, even if he is fit to play, after his team’s clinical performance.
Madrid lost the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona in January and have fallen eight points behind their rivals in the La Liga title race.
Winning their second trophy of the season, after lifting the European Super Cup in August, would boost morale in the Spanish capital.
Al-Hilal, who overcame Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo in the other semi-final, have former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo and ex-Atletico Madrid forward Luciano Vietto leading the line.
The 2021 Asian Champions League winners are aiming to win the trophy for the first time, having finished fourth in 2019 and 2021.
“We have to respect this team, they’ve got good players and play well collectively. They’ll be excited to play in the final and so will we,” said Ancelotti on Wednesday.
“Football’s changing because there are a lot of teams all over the world that can compete, fight and win too.”
At two goals up against Al Ahly Madrid appeared to have sealed progress to the final but their opponents hit back with a penalty and missed a golden chance to equalise.
After Luka Modric missed a spot kick of his own, Rodrygo scored a brilliant goal to secure the win and Arribas’s fourth put a cherry on the cake.
It was Valverde’s first goal for the club since November and Ancelotti was happy the Uruguayan was back on the scoresheet.
Amid reports of a family issue away from the game and after the World Cup, Valverde has not been at his best.
In the first half of the season the midfielder was Madrid’s key player, driving them through in the Champions League and helping them keep pace with Barcelona at the top of La Liga.
“I’m happy because he played a good game,” said Ancelotti.
“He produced the goods, showed his quality and scored. Little by little he’s coming back.”
Vinicius was able to brush off the issues he has been suffering from in Spain recently too, including several instances of racist abuse, opening the scoring for Madrid with a delicate chip.
Madrid are undeniably more dangerous with Benzema leading the line but the forward has been set back by a string of niggling injuries this season.
Several other Madrid players have also been sidelined, including Thibaut Courtois, Ferland Mendy, Lucas Vazquez and Eden Hazard, who will not make the final, while Eder Militao is another doubt.
However after their goal glut against Al Ahly, Ancelotti will be confident his strikers can get the job done and make history on Saturday.
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