Unfortunately, the second semi-final of this year's Club World Championships didn't end with another surprise after hosts Al-Ain defeated South American champions River Plate Buenos Aires in the game before after a heated penalty shoot-out and making it to the final for the first time.
On Wednesday evening, the winners of the European and Asian Champions League, Real Madrid from Spain and Kashima Antlers from Japan came together to face each other and to battle out who of them would make it into the final.
It was Real's first game at the World Cup, as they were allowed to pause in the previous rounds. Kashima previously defeated Mexican champions Guadalajara 3-2 and therefore qualified for the semi-finals. Both teams faced each other two years ago in the final of the Club World Cup, in which Real managed to win but only after super-star Ronaldo scored twice in extra time.
This time too, Real had a striker on their side, who eventually was the deciding factor. Gareth Bale, with his three goals, was ultimately too much for the fiercely fighting Japanese side, who presented themselves as a strong unit and put Real under lot's of pressure, especially in the early stage of the game.
The Asian champion had the first good chances of the match, but unfortunately didn't manage to make use of them. Shortly before the break, Gareth Bale made his first appearance after he played a double pass with Marceloa and kicked the ball into the far corner.
In the second half, Kashima tried its best to equalise, but a merciless Gareth Bale took advantage of some misunderstathe Antlers' defence and scored his second goal and shortly afterwards, once more again after a pass from Marcelo.
But even after the knockout, the Antlers did not let themselves down and demonstrated to the enthusiastic crowd why they are rightfully wearing the crown of Asian football. Though after the third goal it didn't look too good, they didn't want to give in and Shoma Doi scored at least the consolation goal. They even got a few more possibilities but unfortunately weren't cool enough to stagger Real who didn't need to do much more to bring home this victory and now can prepare for the final against Al-Ain.
But Kashima can proudly go back to Japan. Winning the Asian Champions League was the highlight of the year and they proved that they can compete on the international stage. And after the victory over Guadalajara in the preliminary round they can be ensured that their very likeable team is now known also outside Asia.
Kashima also performed very well against Real Madrid, but then lost to the individual class of the Spanish champions' top players. Even without Ronaldo, Real usually plays in a different league from Kashima, but for the Japanese team and their fans it was already a great experience and opportunity to compete with the big names of the European Champions League winners.
Now the Antlers can finally find some rest and start their more than deserved winter break to prepare for the J-League season, which starts in February and which they ended in third place this year.
They have two big goals for 2019, winning the Japanese championship and of course many successful appearances in the Asian Champions League where they are going to try to defend their title.
Let's keep our fingers crossed that we will be able to see this great team at the top again next year.