Real Madrid boss Solari targeting Champions League defence

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Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari is confident his squad are well equipped to produce another “exceptional feat” and successfully defend the Champions League once again.

Los Blancos are out in Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, where they will take on Japanese side Kashima Antlers in Wednesday’s semi-final.

Solari’s side qualified top of their Champions League group, despite a 3-0 home defeat by CKSA Moscow in the last fixture, and will next face Dutch club Ajax in the last 16.

After signing off for the year in fourth place in LaLiga after a hard-earned 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano, now five points behind Barcelona, Solari is hoping the trip to the United Arab Emirates will be a chance to regroup for the challenges ahead in 2019.

“We’re giving it (Club World Cup) the utmost importance because it’s a long old journey to reach this stage. Madrid had to win the Champions League and this group of players did just that and that was an extraordinary feat. We have to thank them for that and we’ll be trying to defend our title,” he said.

“I see the players as being happy and focused on this tournament. There was a special buzz within the squad as we travelled here. They’re experienced and know that this is their reward for having won the Champions League.

“They’ve won three European Cups in a row and four in five years, that’s an exceptional feat that will be difficult to repeat. Although if there’s any club out there that’s equipped to do it, it’s Real Madrid,” Solari said at a press conference, reported by the club media.

Real Madrid are aiming to win a fourth Club World Cup title since 2014, and a third in succession.

“To play down its importance is to see the competition from a European perspective,” Argentinian coach Solari said.

“I’ve been involved in the tournament after success in competitions run by CONMEBOL, UEFA and CONCACAF. The players involved are winners within their respective confederations and that’s no mean feat.

“I’m a loyal follower of this tournament and it’s one I’ve always liked, right since a young age.

“I’m not underestimating any of our opponents and I hope that we enjoy it because it’s a really special competition on the world stage.”

The Real Madrid boss added: “We’re focused on the game against Kashima. They’re a quick, dynamic side who play direct football and have pace up front. They’ll be decent opposition.

“All of our players are concentrating on this match. They’re really excited and enthusiastic ahead of a contest that they’ve earned the right to play in.

“Every one of the players could have a decisive role to play tomorrow in getting us through to the final.”

Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio, who had all been carrying injury concerns, were part of the 25-man squad which travelled to Abu Dhabi, so could be involved.

Kashima Antlers, champions of Asia, beat Mexican outfit Club Deportivo Guadalajara 3-2 in Al Ain to book their semi-final place against the Spaniards.

Midfielder Shoma Doi said on “We will be going into the game challenging for a giant-killing.

“We want to surprise them and we will be at our best. Not even a glimpse of a lack of concentration will do for us.”

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