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Real Madrid jet to the UAE to take on Al-Jazira in Club World Cup

Al-Jazira's Ali Mabkhout celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Urawa Reds to set up a clash with Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. (AFP)
ABU DHABI: Real Madrid arrive in the Middle East this week bidding for their third Club World Cup title in four seasons and looking to increase the dominance of Spanish teams.
Madrid won the title in 2014 and 2016, while Barcelona were the winners in 2009, 2011 and 2015. The Catalan club also was runner-up in 2006. European clubs have won the competition nine out of the last 10 times.
Madrid will play Al-Jazira in the semi-final in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday after the host team beat Japan’s Urawa Reds, the Asian Champions League winners, 1-0 on Saturday. Madrid warmed up for the continental competition by beating Seville 5-0 on Saturday night, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice.
“We’ve now got the Club World Cup and it’s just as important to us as all the other competitions,” Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez said. “We’re aiming to win it all and we’ll be going all out to do so.”
But the seven-team tournament has historically received little attention from the top European clubs and their fans. It comes in the middle of the European season and usually disrupts the teams’ schedules.
Madrid will have their league game at Leganes postponed, and their preparation for the much-anticipated clasico against Barcelona on Dec. 23 will likely be affected.
Gremio and Madrid enter the Club World Cup only in the semi-finals and are fancied to set up a tasty final.
Gremio are coached by former Brazil forward Renato Gaucho, a star for several Brazilian clubs in the 1980s and 90s who made headlines across Brazil not long ago after saying that “for sure” he played better than Ronaldo.
“I wanted to see Cristiano Ronaldo playing for the teams that I played in my time, many not paying salaries for three or four straight months, and to be a champion like I was,” the brash coach told ESPN Brasil earlier this year. “I wanted to be playing for Real Madrid today, playing once a week, on great fields, and with the teammates that Ronaldo has. I really wanted to see that.”
The straightforward coach said that there is “no doubt that Ronaldo is a great player,” but the Madrid star is “not as versatile” as he was when he played.
“Ronaldo has a lot of strength, he doesn’t have a lot of technique,” said the 55-year-old. “This current generation didn’t see me play. I guarantee that those who saw me play would have a different opinion (about who was a better player).”
Gaucho also attracted headlines recently when he said that he does not have to study soccer to be a good manager.
“Those who need to learn can go study in Europe, those who don’t can go to the beach,” he said after leading Gremio to the Brazilian Cup title last year. “Those who know football will always know it. Those who don’t will have to go study it.”