Fifa Club World Cup UAE: Chelsea advance to final, Al Hilal win hearts in Abu Dhabi

Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku (right) shoots past Al Hilal's Ali Albulayhi during the Fifa Club World Cup semifinal in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. — Neeraj Murali
Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku (right) shoots past Al Hilal's Ali Albulayhi during the Fifa Club World Cup semifinal in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. — Neeraj Murali

Abu Dhabi - The European club will now face Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras in the Cup final at the same venue on Saturday, while Al Hilal will lock horns with CAF champions Al Ahly in the third-place play-off at the Al Nahyan Stadium



by

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Wed 9 Feb 2022, 11:06 PM

Last updated: Wed 9 Feb 2022, 11:09 PM

Uefa champions Chelsea beat Asian giants Al Hilal by a solitary first-half goal in an enticing semis contest of the Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2021at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night.

The European club will now face Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras in the Cup final at the same venue on Saturday. Al Hilal, after a valiant show, will lock horns with CAF champions Al Ahly in the third-place play-off at the Al Nahyan Stadium.

In a highly entertaining and intense encounter, former Man United striker Odion Ighalo, Al Hilal’s new recruit, showed his skills in the opening minutes with first go on goal but it wasn’t potent enough to disturb Spanish keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. However, the roar from the 19,000-odd crowd for the effort indicated the ‘home’ support for the Saudi side.

But soon, the English club began dictating terms. On eight minutes, Chelsea’s Italian playmaker Jorginho tested keeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf with a powerful long-range effort. Minutes later, Moroccan striker Hakim Ziyech smashed one that whizzed past the post. And Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, lurking in the box, had a couple of quick and sharp tries as Chelsea pushed relentlessly in search of an opening goal.

Amid a wave of attacks from Chelsea and their near control over the game, the back-four of the AFC Champions League winners stood strong. Al Hilal defenders Mohammed Al-Breik, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Yasser Al-Shahrani — all Saudis and a lone foreigner in Jang Hyun-soo from South Korea, were able to block the attempts. And when the likes of Lukaku managed to slip past, Al-Mayouf was up to the mark.

In the first 30 minutes, the Asian Champions were able to fight the Europeans’ fire with fire. And against the run of play, Al Hilal nearly found an open chance but striker Moussa Marega failed to control the ball inside the box.

However, a rare blemish from the Al Hilal defence led to the only goal of the match. Chelsea’s German striker Kai Havertz lobbed a ball inside the box from the left and the delivery went past two men to Al-Shahrani, who unintentionally chested it right in front of a waiting Lukaku, who deposited it into the back of the net.

Despite being a goal down, Al Hilal were composed and continued to push forward while keeping the likes of Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen busy at the back.

The second-half started in the same tempo but the engagements kept getting better and bitter. Chelsea could have doubled but Havertz with a solo run from the left beat the keeper but his shot crashed into the post.

Soon, the momentum and flow of the game began to be prescribed by the Saudi side. There was a long-range effort from star midfielder Mohammed Kanno setting the tone. At the other end, keeper Al-Mayouf went flying full-stretch to deny Moroccan striker Hakim Ziyech. And on 62 minutes, Al Hilal should have scored but Marega couldn’t find full connection on a through ball to edge it past Arrizabalaga. Minutes later, Al Hilal were denied an equaliser thanks to a flying effort from the keeper to parry away Kanno’s powerful volley.

The Riyadh-based club were not just remarkable with their temperament and conduct but fought to the finish, giving a good account of their prowess. The only thing missing for Al Hilal was an elusive goal.

Chelsea, after finishing as runners-up in 2012, will now aim to grab the only trophy missing from their collection.


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