By Brian Homewood
European champions Real Madrid turned on the party tricks as they sailed into the Club World Cup final by crushing Cruz Azul 4-0.
The Mexican side, with far more limited resources than the Spanish giants, did their best to make a game of it and missed a first-half penalty but were chasing shadows from the moment Gareth Bale headed the third goal five minutes into the second half.
Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema were on target in the opening half before Bale and Isco completed the scoring as Real received fanatical backing from the Marrakech crowd.
Cristiano Ronaldo failed to get on the scoresheet but had the crowd in raptures in the second period when he met a cross on the half volley with a ‘rabona’ effort that goalkeeper Jose Corona did well to save.
Real, however, left themselves open to criticism for excessive showboating and even the initial enthusiasm of the fans died down as the game went on.
They next meet South American champions San Lorenzo or Oceania champions Auckland City, who face each other on Wednesday night, in Saturday’s final in Marrakech.
“The game was still open at 2-0 with the penalty but we didn’t concede and it was an efficient performance from us,” Real coach Carlo Ancelotti told Spanish television.
“Ronaldo didn’t score but he is always there helping the team and creating chances.”
Real quickly took control against the CONCACAF champions and an early goal was on the cards.
Ronaldo was denied at point-blank range by Corona and Benzema shaved the post before the keeper misjudged a Toni Kroos free kick and Ramos headed home.
Cruz Azul responded well but failed to make the most of their openings. Joao Rojas took too long over a shot, then Rojas and Mariano Pavone got in each other’s way after Christian Gimenez’s incisive pass opened up the Real defence.
Benzema added the second goal in the 35th minute before Cruz Azul were awarded a penalty when Pavone went down under a challenge by Ramos, the Real defender appearing to grab his opponent’s hair.
Former Mexico midfielder Gerardo Torrado’s weak effort was then saved by Casillas and that proved the end of his team’s challenge.
Bale, unmarked at the far post, headed the third goal in the 50th minute and Isco slalomed his way through the Cruz Azul defence for the fourth.