Leonardo Ponzio: River Plate focused only on Al Ain, not potential Club World Cup final with Real Madrid
South American champions take on host club in Tuesday's semi-final
River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio has said the South American champions will not be looking beyond their Fifa Club World Cup semi-final with Al Ain as a potential showdown with Real Madrid awaits in the final.
Argentina's River booked their place at the Club World Cup in the UAE after defeating fierce rivals Boca Juniors in the final of the Copa Libertadores earlier this month. That final had to be twice postponed and was eventually relocated to Madrid after fans attacked the bus carrying Boca players and staff to River's Monumental Stadium for the second leg.
Now in Abu Dhabi, River get their Club World Cup campaign underway at the semi-final stage where on Tuesday they face host champions Al Ain, who thrashed African Champions League winners Esperance de Tunis in Saturday's quarter-final.
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Ponzio, 36, is set to compete in his second Club World Cup with River having been part of the team that lost 3-0 to Barcelona in the 2015 final, and the midfielder is aware of what is at stake against Al Ain.
“The first game is the most important: if we lose the first match, we will already be playing for third or fourth, which is not good," Ponzio said. "The second thing is to know that if we face a big club like Real Madrid, or in our case Barcelona in 2015, we have to be doubly attentive in every single detail.
“The Fifa Club World Cup is very important,” he added. “It’s very important because we went through many things to win this Copa Libertadores title and now we have the chance to face the champions of all the continents.
"It’s a situation that appears like we are dreaming, but it’s real. We are happy to be in the UAE and we will try to enjoy this moment to the fullest. Let’s see what happens on the pitch.”
Real Madrid will arrive in Abu Dhabi aiming to win an unprecedented third successive Club World Cup title, but their recent form has arguably given their rivals reasons for optimism.
The Spanish giants won a third straight Primera Liga match on Saturday but their 1-0 victory over struggling Rayo Vallecano was unconvincing and was met with boos from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd. That result was followed by a 3-0 defeat at home to Russia's CSKA Moscow in the Uefa Champions League.
Madrid face Asian champions Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup semi-finals.
However, Ponzio has dismissed Madrid's perceived problems and believes Santiago Solari's side remain the favourites at the Club World Cup.
“We have to be realistic: these big teams do not fade or decline," he said. "Real Madrid is the most successful team in Europe, they deserve our utmost respect.
"We can’t kid ourselves. There are some clubs that demand respect. In South America, we are respected, just as Real Madrid is in Europe. We must think only about ourselves.”
Updated: December 16, 2018 01:11 PM