Three Points: Real Madrid easily clinch Club World Cup glory
A trio of observations on Real Madrid's 2-0 win vs. San Lorenzo in the FIFA Club World Cup final on Saturday.
1. Ramos is the man for the big occasion again
The game had seen more yellow cards than shots on goal when Sergio Ramos rose majestically to head in Toni Kroos' well-flighted corner and open the scoring. Ramos combined a number of different gestures in his celebration, ending by planting his feet to the turf by the corner flag, while pointing with both hands at the name on the back of his shirt.
The Andalucian centre-back is an exuberant character, and he could be forgiven this showing-off given how key his contribution has been to Madrid's amazing year. He scored key headers in the Champions League semifinal second leg at Bayern Munich, then repeated the trick in the biggest moment of all, when his injury-time equaliser vs. Atletico Madrid saved the Decima dream.
The 28-year-old did it again when breaking the deadlock in Tuesday's Club World Club semifinal win against Club Azul of Mexico and once more on Saturday. It was his 10th of 2014 and the 52nd in 425 official matches with Madrid, a fantastic record considering his playing position.
Ramos probably should not even have been playing due to thigh injury picked up in Tuesday's game but he was desperate to take part as this was the only big final -- for club or country -- that he had not yet won. Such eagerness overstepped the mark early in the game, when he got booked for a silly trip 80 yards from his own goal, but the will to impose himself on the biggest occasions was clear.
It could easily be argued that such heroics in 2014 should have led to more of a candidacy for this year's Ballon d'Or, with his coach Carlo Ancelotti actually apologising recently for not mentioning the idea more loudly. Various reasons, including a dodgy World Cup with Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo's pre-eminence at Madrid, counted against him.
Ramos' celebrations on Saturday, though, suggested he's happy enough with how things have turned out. Indeed, there was further reason to celebrate after the game when he was named the player of the tournament.
2. Frustration for Ronaldo
The naming of his strongest available side, including James Rodriguez following his recovery from a calf injury, showed how seriously Ancelotti was taking this game. And how important it was for all the club's galacticos to be in the spotlight in this global showpiece occasion.
The biggest star of all also looked very keen to impress. Ronaldo had not scored in the semifinal but had drawn applause with some acrobatic attempts at goal, including an on-the-run "rabona" volley which was replayed all over the world after the game.
There was less to get excited about on Saturday. Inside the first minute Ronaldo had a sight of goal, but opted to cross to Karim Benzema who slipped when about to tap the ball to the net. The first half's best other two shooting chances for the 29-year-old were free-kicks from decent positions, but both were hit into the wall.
Another ambitious effort from far out hit the hand of San Lorenzo defender Walter Kannemann, but ref waved away Ronaldo's frantic appeals for a penalty. In any case, the contact was outside the area.
Early in the second half there was an air-shot from Ronaldo after Benzema set him up to shoot near penalty spot, although in this case the uneven surface may have caused the ball to bounce awkwardly. Ronaldo's painful night continued as he was taken out by Kannemann and, as the game ambled to a close, a sight of goal in the 89th minute was easily saved by San Lorenzo keeper Sebastian Torrico.
Ronaldo was involved in Madrid's second goal, but very early on when he wanted to shoot but had to play the ball out of the area. That move ended with Gareth Bale's weak enough effort squirming its way under Torrico's body. Bale's 2014 has included key goals in the Copa del Rey, Champions League and Club World Cup finals.
Ronaldo's goal-scoring contribution to those games has been just the penalty scored against Atletico when the game was already won. The Portuguese has contributed handsomely to Madrid's exploits in this calendar year and they would not have got to this point without him, but again he was left with a secondary role on the final stage, although he was named as the tournament's second-best player.
It appeared to be of little consolation to him to him after the game.
3. San Lorenzo scrapped well
San Lorenzo's total club budget is 8 million euros per year (i.e. less than half of La Liga minnows Eibar). Madrid's is 541 million.
It was clear even before kick-off that, given the difference in financial weight, the Argentine side decided the best way to even up things was to throw their physical weight around. Club president Matias Lammens had showed some fight by batting-back questions about a possible aggressive approach by suggesting the Argentines had more to worry about given Pepe's "violent" reputation.
The underdogs also stood firm with FIFA and ensured the referee was chosen from a "neutral" federation, with original choice Pablo Proenca of Portugal reportedly replaced by Walter Lopez of Guatemala.
San Lorenzo might famously be the team of Pope Francis, but their other celebrity-fan Viggo Mortensen seems more worldly, writing in Marca on Saturday morning that his team's only chance was to "ruffle Cristiano's hair a bit" in the first 15 minutes. The Portuguese was targeted while Nestor Ortigoza got the first yellow of the game for a late challenge on Ramos and, soon afterwards, veteran centre-back Mario Yepes crashed into Bale.
This approach worked pretty well with Isco, James and Bale all hustled out of the game during the opening stages. A stop-start contest with little rhythm in midfield was fine by San Lorenzo. There were four yellows inside the first half-hour, but just one shot on target.
Once Madrid went ahead, though, and especially when Bale doubled the lead, the fight went out of the game. Playmaker Leandro Romagnoli, arguably San Lorenzo's best player but one who is only just back from two months out with a shoulder injury, came on late and his team had more of the ball.
Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas even had a few saves to make but really nobody from either side had any doubts about how the game would go.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan