MADRID • Real Madrid will fly out to the United Arab Emirates to take on Japan's Kashima Antlers in the semi-finals of the Fifa Club World Cup on Wednesday on a winning note after beating Rayo Vallecano 1-0 in LaLiga on Saturday.
Karim Benzema's 13th-minute strike was enough for Real to close the gap to two points on leaders Barcelona, who played Levante this morning (Singapore time), but the uninspiring display drew boos from the fans in the Santiago Bernabeu for the second time in four days following Wednesday's 3-0 Champions League defeat by CSKA Moscow.
Real were made to sweat for the victory by second-from-bottom Vallecano, who would have snatched a point in stoppage time had Sergio Ramos not cleared the second of Thibaut Courtois' double saves, from Alex Alegria and Emiliano Velazquez, off the line.
"That's football," said relieved Real coach Santiago Solari. "That's why it's such a beautiful game. When you're not playing great, when nothing's going right, you have to be prepared to suffer."
Little was seen from Real stars such as Luka Modric, presented with his Ballon d'Or before kick-off.
"We didn't give much away to Rayo and we created quite a few chances. With all respect to Rayo, who are a great side, I think we should have scored more," added Solari.
Earlier, Antoine Griezmann struck the winner for Atletico Madrid 10 minutes from the end after Real Valladolid had fought back from a two-goal half-time deficit. The 3-2 win moved Atletico to the top of the table, level with leaders Barcelona and and Sevilla on 31 points but Diego Simeone's men are third with an inferior goal difference behind both.
Meanwhile, Modric has criticised Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for not attending this month's Ballon d'Or ceremony where he was given the award, saying their decision was unfair to fellow players and voters. The Croatia captain broke the duo's decade-long stranglehold on the prestigious prize last month.
"I cannot speak about why someone didn't turn up at an award ceremony, it's their choice. It seems these votes and awards are only significant when they win," the 33-year-old playmaker told Croatian newspaper Sportske Novosti.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS