For the third season running Real Madrid have reached the final of the FIFA Club World Cup.
The reigning European champions have won the previous two tournaments (and three of the last four) and Gareth Bale scored an 11-minute hat trick to ease Real past the Kashima Antlers 3-1 on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.
Real Madrid put aside their La Liga woes and were comfortable winners in the end, as Bale scored either side of half time and then sealed his hat trick with a splendid strike before the 60-minute mark. Kashima’s Shoma Doi grabbed a consolation late on as his strike was initially chalked off but VAR proved it was a legitimate goal.
They will play Abu Dhabi’s very own Al Ain in the final on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET, which you can watch by clicking on the link above, as a win would mean they become the first team in tournament history to win four titles. A victory in the final would mark the fourth time in the last five years Real have been crowned as the best club team on the planet.
Santiago Solari’s men piled on the pressure late in the first half after a slow start, as Bale scuffed an effort as he looked set to volley home with several Kashima defenders swarming around him.
Karim Benzema was causing plenty of problems in the final third, Toni Kroos had a shot from distance saved rather easily and then Sergio Ramos headed a free kick wide.
Right on half time Bale scored the opener for Real as he played a brilliant one-two with Marcelo and slotted home into the far corner off the post.
Early in the second half Bale cut the ball back and it found Benzema but his shot was cleared off the line by Shuto as Kashima battened down the hatches.
At the other end Daigo caused Luka Modric a few problems as he faced his own goal, but a foul was given against Kashima at the pivotal moment.
Soon after a poor back pass allowed Bale to sneak in and he tucked home his and Real’s second goal of the game.
And moments later Bale had his and Real’s third, as the Welshman sealed his hat trick with a stunning strike across goal and into the far corner.
The hat trick occurred in just 11 minutes either side of half time as Bale was subbed off after 60 minutes.
Solari’s men could have added more goals late on but a combination of poor finishing and resolute defending from Kashima meant Bale’s goals were enough.
Kashima then grabbed a late consolation as Doi’s tidy finish eventually counted after VAR intervened to stop it being incorrectly overturned.
But Bale stole the show as Real booked their place in Saturday’s Club World Cup final with minimum fuss as they aim to win their third-straight title.