Real Madrid are in the United Arab Emirates looking to make history as the first side to defend the Club World Cup and pull level with bitter rivals Barcelona on three trophy wins.
The reigning champions face Al Jazira on Wednesday at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, in Abu Dhabi, before playing either the final or the third-place play-off on Saturday at the same venue.
Either Brazilian side Gremio, winners of the 2017 Copa Libertadores, or Mexico’s Pachuca, winners of the CONCACAF Champions League, will be eagerly awaiting a confrontation with Los Blancos, who triumphed in 2014 and 2016.
Madrid arrived in Abu Dhabi in improved spirits after thrashing Sevilla 5-0 in La Liga, after a disappointing start to the season which saw them finish behind Tottenham in their Champions League group and currently sit fourth in the Spanish table.
Coach Zinedine Zidane has brought his entire squad, including injured star Gareth Bale, who is expected to play some part in the tournament.
“We were really looking forward to getting here. Being here is a prize, we have the opportunity to defend this title and win it again,” said captain Sergio Ramos.
“It’s an opportunity to win another trophy for our fans. We’re really motivated after a great game against Sevilla and we’re on a good run at the moment.”
Standing in Madrid’s way are Al Jazira, who reached the Club World Cup as league winners in the host country, lifting the UAE title last season.
Playmaker Romarinho scored the only goal as the game as they beat Oceania champions Auckland City in the play-off to reach the quarter finals and then Ali Mabkout pulled off the same trick against Asian Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds to fire Al Jazira to the semi-final.
“We don’t just play as Jazira now, we play for the UAE,” Mabkhout told FIFA. “We know [Madrid] are one of the best teams in the world and this is incentive for all the players.”
Al Jazira’s experienced Dutch coach Henk ten Cate, a former Barcelona assistant, backed his side to go toe-to-toe with anybody. “We might not have the best players. But in team spirit, I have the best team,” he said.
“They fight for each other, they challenge and they have a big heart. This is how we play, with a big heart.”
Upsets do happen in the competition and Madrid have experienced that first-hand, finishing fourth when they took part in FIFA’s Club World Championship in 2000, in the inaugural version of the competition.
Even last season the Spanish giants were taken to extra-time by Japanese side Kashima Antlers, eventually emerging 4-2 winners after the scores were level at 2-2 after 90 minutes.
However, Madrid are clear favourites to triumph and bring another trophy back to the Santiago Bernabeu, where they will have the opportunity to show it off in front of Barcelona before the year is out, with the December 23 Clasico fast approaching.
Should Madrid return victorious it might give them the momentum needed to kick their league and Champions League double defence into gear too.