Saudi Arabian titans Al-Hilal have missed out on a ticket to the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup final after they were beaten by Chelsea 1-0 on Wednesday’s semifinal at Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium. A single Romelu Lukaku goal was enough for the European champions to consign the champions of Asia to a play-off against Egypt’s Al-Ahly for third place.
With Thomas Tuchel still in self-isolation following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis, Chelsea were underneath the tutelage of assistant coach Zsolt Low for this one. Main goalie Edouard Mendy also missed out on the semifinal having won the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal on Monday, with Kepa Arrizabalaga filling in for the shot-stopper against Al-Hilal.
Despite the loss of key personnel, Chelsea managed to keep Al-Hilal on the back burner for a good portion of the match. Determined to win the only trophy that has eluded owner Roman Abramovich since his takeover of the Blues in 2003, Chelsea immediately dominated proceedings, with Lukaku proving to be a menace for the Saudis with two excellent chances before his 32nd minute breakthrough.
Kai Havertz’s cross from the left flank was inadvertently directed towards Lukaku by Al-Hilal’s Yasser Al-Shahrani, allowing the Belgian to end his six-game goal drought with a point-blank finish past goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf.
Havertz then came close to making it 2-0 Chelsea with a shot that clipped the goalpost in the 47th minute, before Al-Hilal slowly began to grow their presence into the game. Mohamed Kanno saw a shot from distance going over the target before Chelsea goalie Kepa did well to deny Moussa Marega from seven meters out. Both Odion Ighalo and Kanno then saw their shots being blocked as Chelsea staved off their resistance to see out the 1-0 win.
The result saw Chelsea qualifying into the Club World Cup final where they will take on South American champions Palmeiras of Brazil on Saturday. There, the Blues will seek to avenge their failure from the 2012 edition of the tournament, where they were beaten 1-0 by Palmeiras’ arch-rivals Corinthians in Yokohama, Japan.
But before the showpiece match, Al-Hilal will take on Egyptian titans Al-Ahly for third place, with the African champions having been beaten by Palmeiras 2-0 on Tuesday in their own semifinal.
Meanwhile, UAE champions Al-Jazira finished sixth in the Club World Cup after they were beaten 3-1 by Mexico’s Monterrey in the fifth-place play-off. The hosts found themselves 3-0 down in the first half following a Zayed Sultan own-goal and goals from Rogelio Funes Mori and Cesar Fontes.
Al-Jazira did pull one back late in the game thanks to an effort from Bruno, but the CONCACAF champions managed to hold on for the win.