Zinedine Zidane: Real Madrid's Club World Cup final vs. Gremo is '50/50'
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says Saturday's Club World Cup final against Gremio in Abu Dhabi is a "50/50" game, while admitting his side will need to up their performance from Wednesday's semifinal scrape past Al-Jazira.
Bidding to become the first team ever to retain the Club World Cup in its current format, Zidane's side were less than impressive when wobbling 2-1 past the competition hosts in Wednesday's semifinal, while Brazilian club Gremio had edged their way to a 1-0 win against Mexican side Pachuca 24 hours earlier.
Speaking at the pregame news conference at the Zayed Sports City Stadium as his team bid for a club record fifth trophy of this calendar year, Zidane admitted to some problems with "balance" against Al-Jazira, while saying his players knew they would face a tougher task against recently crowned Copa Libertadores winners Gremio.
"I don't believe we played badly, we made chances. What was strange was not to score in the first half," Zidane said. "If you score then the game is totally different. Things happened with the balance of the team, but you look at it, talk about it, and know we must do better in the next game.
"We are playing a much better opponent tomorrow, it will be a much more difficult game. Finals are always 50/50. Gremio deserve to be there, as we do. Now it is just a one-off game, with no favourites. We are excited about the game, and the chance to win another trophy."
Madrid defenders Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal are again available for selection after fitness issues, while Gareth Bale showed he was ready to contribute with his winner from off the bench against Al-Jazira midweek.
"I am very happy for Gareth, but above all for the team," Zidane said. "He has been training regularly with us, which is the most important for his continuity. We have been here a week together, and he looks very happy with his teammates. We will see his recovery, tomorrow is a final, and he is ready to be there."
Asked by a local reporter for an opinion on Liverpool's Egypt international Mohamed Salah, linked with a potential future move to Madrid, Zidane said he was a fan and has followed his career.
"[Salah] is great player, he has shown that at Roma, and now at Liverpool where he is an important player for his team," he said. "He is still young, improving all the time. I don't talk much about other players, but I rate him a lot."
Comments from Gremio coach Renato Guacho, who claimed that he personally had been a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo, were gently brushed off by Zidane.
"It is a strong thing to say, but he has the right to give his opinion," Zidane said. "[Renato] was a great player, but I do not agree -- Cristiano is much better, with what he has done. But we must respect him. To say he was as good as Cristiano, or as me, is to say a lot, but he was a good player."
Ramos also spoke at the new conference, and said that he was recovering from calf and back problems, but they were not serious enough for him to miss out on a final for his team.
"I am feeling much better after a calf problem and then the back issue that I had," he said. "But today I trained with no problem. In other moments I might have made a different decision, but I like to play important games, and tomorrow is a final, so I will make an extra effort. If I could not give a good level, I would not do it."
The most sent-off player in La Liga history said he would not change his style of play in Saturday's game, even knowing a red card would see him banned for the following Saturday's La Liga Clasico against Barcelona.
"We know we must be careful as we have an important game in the Clasico," Ramos said. "But there is a trophy on the line here, so we will not change our way of playing, or protect ourselves from cards."
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