Santiago Solari delighted with 'perfect' Gareth Bale as Real Madrid prepare for Al Ain showdown in Fifa Club World Cup final
The Welsh forward's hat-trick put the Spanish side in Saturday's final at Zayed Sports City Stadium against the Arabian Gulf League champions
Real Madrid manager Santiago Solari paid tribute to hotshot Gareth Bale after he struck a hat-trick to fire the defending champions into this weekend's Fifa Club World Cup final.
The Welshman, 29, scored all three of Madrid’s goals in Wednesday night’s 3-1 victory in the semi-final against Japan’s Kashima Antlers at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Shoma Doi notched a consolation for the Asian champions 12 minutes from time.
However, the night belonged undoubtedly to Bale. The forward, whose progression in Spain has been interrupted by injury, has endured a difficult time this season and came into the match having found the net only once in 12 matches.
Yet he scored once in the first half and twice in quick succession after the break to signal a sudden return to form. Bale, carrying an ankle injury coming into the tournament and therefore a doubt to play on Wednesday, was withdrawn on the hour mark, most likely as a precaution.
Madrid will hope the hat-trick sparks an upturn in fortunes for Bale, who has struggled this campaign to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s summer transfer to Juventus.
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“We all expect these performances from him,” Solari said immediately after the Kashima win. “Every Sunday, every Wednesday, every time we play. It is not easy to score three goals every game.
“But it is not just the goals - it is the commitment. He had it in the last few games. Today, everything was perfect. He could achieve this as he was committed before.”
With the win, Madrid’s quest for a third successive Club World Cup crown continues. The Spanish giants, the reigning Uefa Champions League champions, take on hosts Al Ain in the final on Saturday, at the same venue in the capital, where they will attempt to become the first team to capture the trophy for a fourth time.
Surprise finalists Al Ain stand in their way having seen off River Plate, Copa Libertadores winners earlier this month, on penalties in their last-four clash at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday. The match had finished 2-2 in normal time, but goalkeeper Khalid Essa saved Enzo Perez's penalty for the host representatives to advance to the showpiece.
Club World Cup debutants, Al Ain have played three games to get to that stage, scoring eight goals en route. Thus far, the UAE champions have upset Tunisia’s Esperance de Tunis and River along the way, so Solari has warned his Madrid players not to treat lightly their next opponents.
“I expect them to be competitive, of course,” the Argentine said. “No one can arrive into the Club World Cup final without being competitive. They scored many goals, every game.
“They beat the team from New Zealand [Team Wellington] and then they beat River Plate. They are in the final because they deserve it. We have to be as competitive as we were today to win the trophy.”
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: “We watched the River Plate-Al Ain game and know you can’t underestimate any team - these matches are always difficult. These teams play differently to teams in Europe and you have to adapt a little bit.”
Updated: December 20, 2018 10:37 AM