Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed his side’s patience and refused to criticise his misfiring forwards after they struggled past Al Jazira 2-1 in Wednesday’s Club World Cup semifinal in Abu Dhabi.
The opening 40 minutes saw Madrid take 17 shots, and have two goals disallowed, before Dubai-based Al Jazira took the lead. Even after Cristiano Ronaldo’s equaliser early in the second half Zidane’s side struggled to convert the chances which kept coming their way, with Karim Benzema twice hitting the woodwork from close range, before fit-again Gareth Bale scored just moments after coming on as a substitute.
Asked at the postgame news conference to explain how his side could have 18 shots in the first 45 minutes, but still go into half-time behind, Zidane would only say it had been “strange” and praised his team for staying patient and getting the win in the end.
“The team suffered, but football is like that,” Zidane said. “There is very little I can explain, I can just say we deserved our win, and to pass to the final. The first half was very strange, with so many chances, but not scoring.
“But this is football, and the good thing was we had 45 minutes to change the game, staying patient, knowing we would have more chances. That is what I told the players at half-time, and that is what we did with Cristiano’s first goal. We know that in football you do not win things easily. I said that before the game too.”
Zidane rejected a suggestion that Benzema’s latest struggles in front of goal meant Madrid needed to sign a new centre-forward in January.
“No — not at all,” he said. “Karim did not score, but he is playing well, moved well today, created many chances, he and Cristiano. But the ball just did not want to go in. I am disappointed for him, as he wanted to score, but we must not get down.”
Zidane was happier to praise the impact made by Bale, who had also saved the team in his only other appearance during an injury affected last three months, in the Copa del Rey against third tier Fuenlabrada.
“I am happy for Bale, and he is happy too,” Zidane said. “He came on and made the difference.”
The game brought further controversy over FIFA’s VAR technology, with Benzema and teammate Casemiro having goals ruled out at 0-0, and then Al Jazira thinking they had gone 2-0 ahead only for the officials to spot an offside.
“Sometimes they take a long time, and we do not know what is going on, it is a bit strange, and affects the rhythm of the game for sure,” Zidane said. “Tonight is not the moment to get into details on this, but we were three or four minutes to get the decision, which is not good.
“We must take the good from these things and try to improve the negative side of this.”
Zidane predicted Saturday’s final against Gremio would be another test for his side.
“We saw their game yesterday, and other games too,” he said. “I know this team although I do not follow the Brazilian league week to week.
“They play good football, and we must be at our level as it will be another difficult game. In football there are no easy games, we saw that today, and even more against a Brazilian team in a final.”
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