Gareth Bale was the surprise hero as Real Madrid survived a shock against outsiders Al Jazira to win 2-1 in Wednesday's extra dramatic Club World Cup semifinal in Abu Dhabi.
The opening 40 minutes saw Madrid take 17 shots, and have two goals disallowed, before the locals took a barely believable lead through Romarinho in almost their first entry into the opposition penalty area.
Even after Cristiano Ronaldo's equaliser early in the second half, Madrid could not convert the chances which kept coming their way, hitting the woodwork four times before Bale converted Lucas Vazquez's cut back with his first touch just 10 minutes after entering the play.
The victory put Zinedine Zidane's side into Saturday's decider against Copa Libertadores winners Gremio, who beat CONCACAF representatives Pachuca in Tuesday's first semifinal, although the main memory from the game will be how they struggled to put away the Dubai-based hosts despite dominating possession completely.
With 15 minutes played, it seemed almost incredible that the Champions League winners had not scored -- Ronaldo had six clear chances, the closest of which saw Al Jazira goalkeeper Ali Khaseif push a close-range header onto the crossbar. Luka Modric also struck a post from 20 yards amid incessant one-way traffic.
Karim Benzema then headed in Isco's cross, but referee Sandro Ricci disallowed the goal for a push by Ronaldo when the ball was in the air. There was further drama -- and controversy -- as FIFA's much-questioned VAR system took more than two minutes to decide that a Casemiro header into the net would not stand due to Benzema having been offside and interfering with play.
Then came the Dubai side's moment. Madrid defender Nacho's poor clearing header and teenage right-back Achraf Hakimi's botched clearance allowed impressive Moroccan playmaker Moubarak Boussoufa to play in Brazil forward Romarinho, who provided a very classy finish and gave his team the lead at the break.
Things got even more surreal two minutes after half-time when Madrid were again caught with too many players up the field, and Ali Mabkhout teed up Boussoufa to tap home. The VAR was once more called upon, and an offside was again correctly called. Ronaldo almost immediately made them pay for that miss moments later as he clinically converted Luka Modric's pass, with the Portugal captain thereby becoming the CWC's record goalscorer.
Madrid continued to dominate the proceedings, with Benzema denied by substitute keeper Khaled Al Senaani, and also twice striking a post from close range. But Al Jazira remained dangerous on the break, with Mabkhout botching a clear opportunity to put his side ahead again.
Just as extra time was looming, fit-again Bale provided a key intervention, just as he had during a recent crucial Copa del Rey cameo against third-tier Fuenlabrada, on his only other appearance during three months in which he has struggled with calf and thigh muscle injuries.
Madrid should not have needed the Wales international, but they did, and questions over their form will follow them into Saturday's final, and also the La Liga Clasico at home to Barcelona on Dec. 23.