The 2017 Club World Cup final between Madrid and Brazilian side Gremio knotted at 0-0 in the second half on Saturday, but Ronaldo drew a foul and lined up a free kick. He marched backwards and stood in his traditional stance. He briefly closed his eyes. And then he stepped up …
He more or less struck the free kick right at the Gremio wall. But the wall split. Luan and Lucas Barrios opened up a window for Ronaldo to power his shot through, right past goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe at his near post.
Ronaldo later had the ball in the Gremio net again, but what would have been a second Real goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside.
In the end, though, it didn’t matter. The free kick was all that was necessary. Madrid won its third Club World Cup in four years, and became the first club to go back-to-back.
The Club World Cup is a second-tier tournament as far as many fans are concerned. Contested by the champions of the six continents, it is only semifinals and a final for the European and South American teams, and rarely gets much attention unless the European Champions League title holder loses.
But Ronaldo and Madrid celebrated as if the title meant a lot. They had dominated the first half without anything to show for their superiority. They had struggled in the final third like they so often have in La Liga this season. The Ronaldo free kick – a relatively rare sight these days – broke the deadlock, offered relief, and, in a way, tied a bow on a dominant calendar year for the reigning European and Spanish champs.
There have been talks of a new format for the Club World Cup, which, in its current structure, has become relatively stale. If Ronaldo’s free kick ends up being the last game-winner of the current format, it’s not a bad way to bury it.