Santiago Solari: Real Madrid wary of Kashima Antlers 'challenge' in Fifa Club World Cup semi-final
European champions are aiming to win a third successive world title and will face Al Ain in the final on Saturday if they prevail on Wednesday night at Zayed Sports City Stadium
Real Madrid manager Santiago Solari has played down his team’s status as Fifa Club World Cup favourites, and insists the European champions must work hard if they are to clinch a historic third successive title.
Madrid, who in May became the first club in the Uefa Champions League era to win the European Cup three years in a row, are back in Abu Dhabi to defend the Club World Cup title they won 12 months ago in the UAE capital. The Spanish giants also won the 2016 tournament in Japan.
Madrid begin their 2018 campaign at the semi-final stage on Wednesday when they take on Asian Champions League winners Kashima Antlers, who earned their place in the last-four with a 3-1 win over Central American representatives Guadalajara in the quarter-finals.
With a squad filled with star power, including the reigning Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, Madrid are not only heavy favourites to defeat Kashima, but to overcome Argentina’s River Plate in the final should they progress past the Japanese side.
Real Madrid in Abu Dhabi: Players train ahead of semi-final against Kashima Antlers
However, Solari is adamant that Madrid face a tough challenge to successfully defend the title, and said his team are taking nothing for granted.
“It’s a beautiful tournament and I like it very much because the teams that have reached it are the champions of each continent,” the Argentine said at the pre-match conference on Tuesday.
“To win again will be something extraordinary but nothing is guaranteed for us because there are no weak teams in this competition.
“We are only focused on the match against Kashima. All our players have worked hard. They are motivated and very enthusiastic because of the opportunity to play in the Club World Cup.”
Wednesday’s meeting at Zayed Sports City stadium will be a rematch of the remarkable 2016 Club World Cup final when Madrid fought back to beat Kashima 4-2 after extra time.
Solari believes this Kashima side will be even stronger than the one Madrid faced two years ago, and the Argentine is expecting a competitive game.
“The players are almost the same,” he said. “They have strong, high quality foreign players and the Japanese players are quick and very skillful. They are going to be worthy opponents and we are expecting an exciting game.
“We will stick to our own style which is to play dominating football and our approach has always been to win. But the situation can change like in any game and we are ready to face any challenge.
“For me, this is a tournament that’s worth playing for and a tournament that I have been following. I’m sure my players have the same motivation to win and everyone has worked 100 per cent to achieve this goal.”
Brazilian full-back Marcelo shared his manager’s desire to retain the Club World Cup trophy, and said he needs no more motivation than to succeed for the fans and his teammates.
“To wear the Real Madid shirt is the biggest motivation for me,” he said. “The other is the union in the dressing room. In the team we are like a family.
“We are hungry for titles and this is a short competition. We are playing straight in the semis and if ... we will play in the final and that would be a chance to win another piece of silverware.”
Updated: December 19, 2018 07:41 AM