ABU DHABI – Cristiano Ronaldo proved decisive once again in a major final, scoring a second-half free-kick goal to lead Real Madrid to a 1-0 victory on Saturday night over Brazil’s Gremio in the Club World Cup final.
The win at Zayed Sports City Stadium in the United Arab Emirates’ capital capped off what was arguably the greatest year in the history of the storied club, which won five titles in a calendar year for the first time in team history.
Gremio, the reigning Copa Libertadores champions, set the tone early with a hard-nosed defensive approach aimed at thwarting the Spanish club’s attack, with Pedro Geromel running into Ronaldo’s cleats from behind and sending the Portuguese superstar to the turf in the second minute.
The defender avoided picking up a yellow card even though he didn’t come close to touching the ball on the play.
The superior talent of the UEFA Champions League holders, however, was evident almost immediately in the first half, as they dominated the ball and created all the scoring opportunities.
A volley by Karim Benzema in the 36th minute was cleared away by a defender, while Ronaldo’s long-range free kick traveled just over the crossbar three minutes later.
With Gremio’s players looking worn down in the second half, Real Madrid seemed likely to open the scoring if it could start getting their shots on target.
They were unable to do so in the first few minutes after intermission and then dodged a bullet when Gremio midfielder Ramiro was brought down in the area by Blancos defender Sergio Ramos, who managed to get away with the contact without the whistle blowing.
After Gremio was denied a penalty at one end of the field, the referee awarded a free kick to Ronaldo at the other end.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s shot toward the wall in the 53rd minute ricocheted off one defender and entered the left side of the goal, with net minder Marcelo Grohe left helpless on the play.
The goal changed the whole complexion of the match, since Gremio was forced to press forward and Real Madrid suddenly was presented with chances on the counter-attack.
Just five minutes later, an apparent second Ronaldo goal was disallowed when Benzema was called for offside, while Grohe warded off another chance by Real Madrid when he tipped a low-traveling shot by Luka Modric off the post in the 65th minute.
Gremio, meanwhile, was never convincing in attack, as the game winded down to an anti-climactic end.
Not only did Real Madrid add another title in 2017 to go along with its La Liga, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup crowns, but Ronaldo also tied Brazilian legend Pele with seven goals in inter-continental cup competitions.
He also now is alone in first place in terms of goals scored in the Club World Cup (a successor competition to the one-game Intercontinental Cup) after putting two goals in the back of the net at this year’s tournament.
“I’m very pleased to win this trophy that we all wanted. Real Madrid had never won five titles in a year, and we’re very happy. The records come naturally. I’m very pleased to have broken another record as top goal scorer at the Club World Cup,” Ronaldo said afterward.