It wasn’t nearly as easy as expected, but a hat-trick from Real Madrid’s main man sent them home with the Club World Cup title as the Spanish giants took down a very competitive Kashima Antlers 4-2 in extra time.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s 98th minute winner put them through in a game they trailed for a period in the second half thanks to a brace from Gaku Shibasaki.
Real Madrid took an early lead as Benzema struck in just past eight minutes in, and it seemed the game would progress as expected. Luka Modric volleyed a shot from the top of the box that was parried by Antlers goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata, but the rebound fell right into the path of Benzema who tapped home easily for the lead.
But the J-League champions would not lay down and die, and they kept things there nearly to halftime, when they drew level a minute before the break. A cross into the box found midfielder Shibasaki all alone in the box, and while he took a heavy touch off his chest that nearly lost him the chance, it appeared the poor touch also caught the defense off guard, and he was allowed to recover and fire home from close range to level things up.
Antlers would then stunningly take the lead in the second half through Shibasaki again. The 24-year-old impressively skipped past a pocket of four Madrid defenders, touching to his left to work some space, and seeing Keylor Navas poorly positioned, he rifled one into the bottom left corner to go 2-1 up.
Cristiano Ronaldo was frustrated for much of the second half, but he would bring Madrid back level right on the hour mark via the penalty spot. Shuto Yamamoto and Shibasaki combined to bring down Lucas Vasquez in the box, and the referee pointed to the spot, allowing Ronaldo and Madrid a way through.
There was a controversial moment near the end of regulation as the referee whistled for a foul on Sergio Ramos, and while it appeared initially the referee would caution Ramos – who was already on a yellow – after a long time with his hand on his pocket, he opted against the decision and allowed Ramos to stay on the pitch.
With the game moving to extra time, Ronaldo found his moment. A beautiful pass from Karim Benzema threaded him through in the box, and all it needed was a clinical finish for the winner. Antlers wouldn’t go down without a fight, as substitute Yuma Suzuki struck the crossbar with a booming set-piece header minutes after Ronaldo’s goal, but it wasn’t to be for the underdogs.
Ronaldo put the game away with his hat-trick goal in the 105th minute as a long shot from Toni Kroos didn’t make it to net, but the block rebound fell into the path of Ronaldo who slammed it home for a 4-2 lead. The win is Real Madrid’s 37th match in a row without defeat across all competitions.