Manchester City crowned Club World Cup champions after Fluminense win

Photograph: Manu Fernández/AP

This was the chance of a lifetime and Manchester City grasped it, completing their week in Saudi Arabia with a second straightforward win to sit atop the globe and grasp the Club World Cup. Perhaps it was fitting that Julián Álvarez, a star in becoming a champion with Argentina a year ago, began and finished what ended up as a lesson in control against the Brazilian side Fluminense.

A moment like this might never come again, Pep Guardiola had cautioned; City met it and have now completed the full house of major trophies that rubber-stamps their era of dominance. An own goal by Nino and a close-range finish by Phil Foden were bookended by Álvarez’s contributions and the only sour note, as City sought to celebrate after full-time, was a bizarre on-pitch confrontation between players and officials from both sides.

Fluminense, the Copa Libertadores holders, were bold and refreshing opponents but ultimately nowhere near the same level. City mastered the sweltering conditions supremely and one wonders, on this evidence, whether the expanded edition of this tournament that kicks in from 2025 risks shaking down as a diluted version of the Champions League. Pointing out that European teams have now won 11 straight world titles is to mark a note of concern at the sport’s direction, rather than to disparage.

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It was a clinical exhibition of football’s present in Saudi Arabia, a venue that invited those paying attention to glimpse the sport’s future. This country will host the World Cup 11 years from now; this vast venue, comfortable enough but some distance out of town, will surely be one of the venues whose identities the organisers are guarding closely. It would be pushing things to say Jeddah served up a classic but this was an environment that will come to feel increasingly familiar.

If Fluminense were to gift City an early opening they could surely not have expected it to be Marcelo, back where he started and aiming to win this competition for the fifth time, who offered the invitation. But it was the veteran’s ill-advised pass, wafted inside to midfield no-man’s land from his left-back position, that fell Nathan Aké’s way and the chance to shoot was too enticing to pass up on. Having carried the ball forward Aké sided up his angles and measured a 25-yard effort against the inside of Fabio’s post; via a flick off the keeper it fell perfectly for the recalled Álvarez, who belly-flopped the rebound across the line from a matter of yards.

Only 39 seconds had passed and it felt, in those early minutes, as if City might be primed to inflict a rout. Fluminense’s freewheeling style under Fernando Diniz is, as Guardiola had pointed out out before the match, a throwback to the great Brazil teams but they had never pitted their high-risk approach against opponents this strong. City pressed in search of further errors but, admirably, Fluminense remained committed to the most intricate of buildups from the back. The stadium applauded as they worked possession from one end to the other in the eighth minute and their confidence visibly blossomed.

They dealt City a warning when the striker German Cano tumbled in the box after being clipped by Ederson, only to be correctly penalised for the narrowest of offsides. Seven of Fluminense’s starting XI were 33 or over, a fact that had occupied plenty of focus beforehand, but a pattern emerged in which City were the ones chasing around.

It meant a contest threatened to break out on a muggy, humid night but City, ice cold when it matters, wrested back their share of the ball and made it tell. Phil Foden seemed caught between crossing and shooting when fed in yawing space on the left side of Fluminense’s penalty area but Foden, but his drilled ball across became an assist when it snicked off the unfortunate Nino and plopped into Fabio’s far corner. Fluminense had brought the fun but, for City, it was business as usual.

Nonetheless Ederson was called into a fabulous one-handed save down to his right when Keno met Marcelo’s whipped corner with a near-perfect header. Fluminense never rowed back on their principles but would have been sent decisively packing before half-time if Fabio had not saved sharply from Jack Grealish.

Splitting hairs, City had offered Fluminense one or two more opportunities to strut their stuff than Guardiola might have liked. Message conveyed, they began the second period in the smothering brand of control with which they had overcome Urawa Reds three days previously. Fabio instantly repelled a Foden strike and, from Bernardo’s follow-up, prevented a near-carbon copy of the opener.

Marcelo, his body sometimes having defeated his brain even if touches of the old class shone through, was withdrawn on the hour and Fluminense looked beaten by now. A couple of potential openings on the counter were spurned and it was City, again, who pointed the way. They knew they had tied things up when Álvarez, released down the left after some loose defending, drove a purposeful low centre towards the edge of the six-yard box that was dispatched emphatically by the dashing Foden.

The lively substitute John Kennedy could have given Fluminense the consolation their enterprise merited but Ederson tipped his shot over. Álvarez completed the job with a low, raking strike and the only remaining tension came when tempers flared at the end.


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