Man City ease into Club World Cup final, closing on 5th title in 2023

AFP , Tuesday 19 Dec 2023

Manchester City shrugged off their sluggish Premier League form to cruise into the Club World Cup final, 3-0 over Urawa Reds on Tuesday, despite missing the presence of Erling Haaland.

Man City
Urawa's Japanese goalkeeper #01 Shusaku Nishikawa concedes a goal during the FIFA Club World Cup football semi-final match between England's Manchester City and Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on December 19, 2023. Photo: AFP


Mateo Kovacic and Bernardo Silva struck after Marius Hoibraten's own goal opened the scoring as City set up a clash with South American champions Fluminense in Friday's final in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

City have won only one of their last six Premier League matches and fallen behind Arsenal and Liverpool in the title race.

But they were never troubled as an unblemished record for European sides against Asian teams at the Club World Cup was extended to 14 games.

Haaland sat out a third consecutive game due to a foot injury, with the Norwegian facing a race against time to be fit for the final.

However, Haaland still provoked the biggest cheer of the night from a barely half-full King Abdullah Sports City Stadium when he offered the crowd a wave as he appeared on the big screens during the first half.

Kevin De Bruyne was also absent from the City squad despite making his return to training on Monday from a four-month layoff due to a hamstring injury.

Without their biggest goal threat and creative hub, City lacked penetration and punch for the first 45 minutes despite enjoying over 80 percent of possession against the Asian champions.

Urawa had lost six of their previous 10 games but largely kept the European champions at bay before a self-inflicted blow opened the game up for City on the stroke of half-time.

Guardiola made the surprise call to leave Julian Alvarez on the bench, leaving City without a natural striker in their starting 11.

It took the Champions League winners 30 minutes to even create a clear sight of goal as Matheus Nunes cut inside and blasted a shot goalwards that Shusaku Nishikawa tipped over.

City were slowing building momentum towards the break as Phil Foden was next to test Nishikawa from outside the box.

But they needed a slice of fortune to break the deadlock in first-half stoppage time.

Nunes fired a low cross into the box that Hoibraten turned into his own net under little pressure.

As Urawa tired from chasing the ball in the sweltering Saudi heat, City were then able to cut loose in the second half.

Kovacic drilled in his first City goal after racing onto Kyle Walker's pass that cut the Japanese defence wide open.

Both Kovacic and Nunes have struggled to make a meaningful impact since arriving at the treble winners in the summer transfer window.

Nunes should have followed the Croatian's lead by netting his first goal for the club when he headed a glorious chance wide from Jack Grealish's cross.

A third goal for City did not take long to arrive as Hoibraten's bad luck continued when Silva's shot deflected in off the Norwegian defender.

Silva warned of the heightened risk of injury put upon players by a "crazy" schedule after FIFA confirmed that the Club World Cup will expand to 32 teams and a month-long competition in 2025.

A hugely one-sided contest did little to whet the appetite for many more matches between Europe's elite clubs and the rest of the world as the financial gulf between the two continues to grow.

European teams are now unbeaten in 21 Club World Cup matches stretching back to 2012.

But a comfortable evening did at least offer Guardiola the chance to rest Silva, Foden, Manuel Akanji, Rodri and John Stones for the closing stages.

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