RABAT (AFP) – World player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo enters the Club World Cup stage on Tuesday as he heads the all-star cast from Real Madrid in their semi-final against Mexican side Cruz Azul in Marrakesh.
The 10-time European Champions go into the game in superb form on a run of 20 consecutive victories and with their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo having scored 25 goals in 15 league games this season.
“We’ve had an unforgettable year, winning a lot of titles, especially La Decima (10th Champions League title), and are in a good position in the league. We now go to the Club World Cup with the intentions of winning it,” said their coach Carlo Ancelotti after the 4-1 win at Almeria at the weekend.
Ronaldo though won’t be just a one man team.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas looks to have returned to form after a worrying slump, French international Karim Benzema is in devastating form up front and Welshman Gareth Bale is also flourishing.
However, Colombian star James Rodriguez and German World Cup winning midfielder Sami Khedira will miss the semifinals, but Ancelotti says both should be back for the final if Real qualify.
Cruz Azul will want to make the most of their good fortune in the quarter-final against Australia’s Asian champions Western Sydney Wanderers.
They trailed until the last minute of regular time against 10-man Wanderers before levelling and then went on to win 3-1, which also saw their opponents have another player sent-off, in extra-time.
“It’s a huge match for us and they (Madrid) go out favourites,” said Cruz coach Luis Fernando Tena.
“But football is a funny game and anything can happen,” added the coach, who guided Mexico to Olympic gold in 2012.
Real Madrid, though, can count on Mexican striker Javier Hernandez for some inside knowledge on Real’s rivals.
“He’ll (Hernandez) get a game and we are lucky to have him here, he’s performing really well in training every day,” said Ancelotti.
Real Madrid have a massive fan base in the country, which lies just across the Mediterranean but the torrential rain that ruined the quarter-finals in Rabat has seen the semi switched to Marrakesh, 350km to the south, despite the 45,000 fans who had bought tickets.
Ancelotti, who is seeking his second World Club Cup as a coach having won it with AC Milan in 2007 after winning the Champions League, said he expected a tough battle with his opponents.
“Cruz Azul are a quality side, with lots of experience and many players who have previously played in Spain and who know our style. They play good football,” said Ancelotti.
“But my players are in tip-top shape both mentally and physically,” he insisted.
The other semifinal pitches Argentine outfit San Lorenzo, who boast Pope Francis as a fan, against surprise package Auckland City of New Zealand.
Auckland edged African champions Setif 1-0 to reach the semi-finals as the Oceania champions grabbed the lead after 52 minutes through central defender John Irving.
San Lorenzo won the Libertadores Cup but have also just finished the Argentine League in 8th.
Their coach Edgardo Bauza, known as “the boss”, led San Lorenzo to their first continental title by beating Nacional of Paraguay 2-1 on aggregate.