Match report as Romelu Lukaku's goal puts Chelsea through to the Club World Cup final as they beat Al Hilal 1-0 in Abu Dhabi; Al Hilal came close to equalising in the second half but were kept out by Kepa Arrizabalaga; Chelsea will play Brazilian side Palmeiras in the final on Saturday
Thursday 10 February 2022 06:08, UK
Romelu Lukaku's first-half strike was enough to send Chelsea through to the Club World Cup final as they held on to beat Al Hilal 1-0 in Abu Dhabi.
Lukaku (32) put Chelsea in front at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Wednesday's semi-final with a close-range effort after Kai Havertz's cross bounced off a defender, falling nicely for the Belgium striker to end a run of five matches without a goal.
Chelsea will now play Brazilian side Palmeiras in the final on Saturday.
"Everyone's very happy Lukaku scored, he fought very hard and tried hard in the game," said Chelsea assistant Zsolt Low, standing in for Thomas Tuchel who was absent with Covid.
"That's why we give him the chance all the time. We hoped for a bit of luck to score today. He's very happy, we're very happy and hope he continues and scores in the final."
Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal, winners of last season's AFC Champions League, really pushed for an equaliser in the second half as Chelsea lost control of the game, but Kepa Arrizabalaga proved to be the hero for the Premier League side.
Moussa Marega and Mohamed Kanno came closest, but the Spaniard pulled off a few impressive saves to allow Chelsea to see out the game.
Last season's Copa Libertadores winners, Palmeiras - who beat Al Ahly on their way to the final - are now the only thing standing between Chelsea and becoming world champions for the first time.
The Club World Cup is the only trophy Chelsea have not lifted since Roman Abramovich took ownership of the west London club in 2003.
They came close in 2012, but were beaten 1-0 in the final by Brazilian side Corinthians in Japan, which is the last time a European side has failed to win the Club World Cup.
After a cagey opening 10 minutes, Chelsea took charge of the game, coming close with Hakim Ziyech who fired the ball just over the bar in a similar spot to his stunning strike in the 2-0 win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League last month.
Lukaku came a whisker away from opening the scoring inside 20 minutes, just failing to meet a low delivery from Cesar Azpilicueta across the face of goal. It looked like it could become another frustrating night for Lukaku, but he grew into the game, producing some good link-up play and testing the goalkeeper.
Just after the half-hour mark, Lukaku got his breakthrough, gifted with a chance he could not miss as Havertz's cross fell perfectly for him inside the six-yard box for his ninth goal of the season, putting Chelsea ahead at the break.
Havertz came close to doubling Chelsea's lead in the early stages of the second half as his dinked effort beat the goalkeeper but hit the frame of the goal. Ziyech applied a brilliant bit of technique to send the ball toward the top corner, but his effort from the edge of the area was too weak and easily saved. Chelsea soon lost their grip on the game and could have been made to rue their missed opportunities.
Al Hilal started to build some momentum, with former West Brom midfielder Matheus Pereira threading Marega through one on one, only for Kepa to make himself big and keep out the ex-Porto forward. Kepa was called into action again as Kanno's bending effort was destined for the top corner, but the Spain international was equal to it with a spectacular one-handed save.
Chelsea had a fine chance to bury the game with 10 minutes to go, as Lukaku pulled it back for substitute Mason Mount, who was on the bench after picking up an injury in last Saturday's FA Cup win over Plymouth, only for Al Hilal to pull out a last-ditch block.
Chelsea assistant Zsolt Low speaking after the game:
"We worked very hard, we missed a bit of freedom and rhythm. We started a little nervous, it was not easy. We fought hard for it to find a solution.
"My opinion is the solution was there but we didn't find it easily. We missed a bit of rhythm in this game but we fought hard to get the result and reach the final.
"This competition is very important for the club. The players felt the pressure and that's why we failed to find the easy solution and score goals.
"The players did well. We didn't concede and had a lot of opportunities to score a second."
Low added: "We hope Thomas Tuchel can travel as soon as possible.
"As I said before he'll follow the government rules. He's in self-isolation now and doing a Covid PCR test every day.
"Once he tests negative it opens the possibility to travel. Every day we wait for it. We wish he can come to the enjoy the final.
"We talked to Thomas at half-time and had a good conversation. He had the same feeling that we were a little nervous and had a lot of easy ball losses. We talked about telling the guys to calm down, find the rhythm and not fight
so hard for solutions.
"We had a good conversation. After the game we've not spoken yet; maybe a bit later we can talk to each other."
FIFA are trialling semi-automated offside technology (SAOT) at this year's Club World Cup competition ahead of potentially being implemented at the World Cup in Qatar.
World football's governing body wants to come up with a solution to the long delays we have become accustomed to as officials try to make a decision on tight offside calls.
Artificial Intelligence software is used to track every player, allowing for a definitive - and speedy - decision on whether a player is offside. Delays will be a thing of the past as animated illustrations can be flashed up on big screens in stadiums within just three seconds.
While the technology had little to do in Wednesday's game between Chelsea and Al Hilal, it did disallow its first goal in Thursday's Club World Cup game between the United Arab Emirates' Al Jazira and Tahiti's AS Pirae.
Pierluigi Collini, the chairman of FIFA's Referee Committee, was clear that the new technology should not be seen as "robot offside", stressing that match officials will still have the final say.
Chelsea will play Palmeiras in Saturday's Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi; kick-off at 4:30pm.
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