Real Madrid arrived in Abu Dhabi last night ahead of their attempt to win a third straight Fifa Club World Cup title.
Fresh from an unconvincing 1-0 win at home to Rayo Vallecano the night before, the players departed Madrid for the seven-hour flight the next morning on an A380, chartered by their shirt sponsors Emirates airline, which was adorned with special club colours.
Arriving via the Presidential Terminal at Abu Dhabi Airport, they were given a five-star welcome, before being escorted on to the Four Seasons Hotel on Al Maryah Island.
From here they will train at the nearby New York University Abu Dhabi pitch on Al Saadiyat Island over the coming days, ahead of their semi-final against Japan’s Kashima Antlers at Zayed Sports City from 8.30pm on Wednesday.
If successful against Kashima, they will then meet either Argentina’s River Plate or the UAE’s Al Ain in Saturday’s final at the same venue from 8.30pm.
The Club World Cup will provide Santiago Solari’s side with some respite from their recent struggles both domestically and in Europe.
Real suffered their heaviest home Champions League defeat 3-0 to CSKA Moscow last Wednesday, before ambling to a 1-0 win at home to Rayo on Saturday.
Despite moving up to third in La Liga with that win, they also hit a 25-year low in front of goal in the process. With just 24 goals in 16 games it’s their worst tally at this stage of a season since 1993/94, when they also had 24 from 16.
Selling superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus over the summer and failing to replace the Portuguese has hit the club hard, as has the departure of their coach Zinedine Zidane after winning their third straight Champions League title in May.
Zidane’s replacement Julen Lopetegui was sacked in late October after losing six of his total 14 games in charge across all competitions. Solari has come in to lose just two of his 11 games, but all is not yet stable.
Winning the Club World Cup would give Los Blancos a chance to get back some confidence ahead of the winter break that sees them return to action away to Villarreal on January 4. It would also see them pull ahead of rivals Barcelona for the record of most Club World Cup wins with four.
“We’ll try and get more goals,” promised Solari, speaking after the Rayo game, which was won narrowly thanks to a lone 13th minute strike by Karim Benzema. “We had far more chances tonight than we did at Huesca, where we won 1-0 and managed to hold on to our lead.
“Our performance today meant that Rayo weren’t allowed to create any chances, whilst we fashioned a hatful. We should have won by a bigger margin today. The goals will come for us in another game and we’ll keep plugging away.”
The fact Real have now kept a clean sheet for the past three consecutive league games was a positive though, according to keeper Thibaut Courtois, who again spared his teammates’ blushes.
“It’s important to keep a clean sheet and great to have gone three La Liga games in a row without conceding.
“The important thing is to win games like we have done today, dominating the ball and linking up well in attack, which takes us into the Club World Cup in good shape. Today’s win over Rayo was vital in ensuring we head into the Club World Cup next week full of confidence.”
Midfielder Marcos Llorente said: “These three points are vital in terms of La Liga and the Club World Cup. It’s a very important trophy and we now have to win our game next week. Winning the competition for a third time in a row would give the team a real boost.”
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