The Club World Cup
Champions of Europe Chelsea defeated four-time AFC Champions League winners Al Hilal in the semifinals. Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal of the game at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium as they advanced to the final. The Blues did not play particularly well as the Saudi Arabian team pushed them to the limits. They needed brilliant saves from Kepa Arrizablaga to get them through, but that has been the theme of their season so far. Thomas Tuchel tested positive for covid-19 a few days ago and while he was not on the touchline for the semifinal, he joined his team yesterday night.
Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras beat African champions Al Ahly in the semifinals to book a tie against Chelsea in the finals. They have not lost a tie in their last seven games. Their Portuguese manager Abel Ferreira has been a resounding success since his stint at PAOK. In his two years at the club, he has won the Copa Libertadores twice and the Copa do Brasil. He is the first foreign manager to win the latter and the second non-South American to win the former.
Chelsea started in their usual 3-4-2-1 formation while Palmeiras went with a 4-2-3-1. A Callum Hudson-Odoi cross in the early moments caused pandemonium. Both sides then felt each other out before Dudu warned AFCON 2021 Champion Edouard Mendy in the 20th minute with a terrific run and a shot over the bar. Kai Havertz then fired wide twice from decent positions in quick succession. In the 28th minute, Palmeiras created a great chance when Ze Rafael and Dudu combined, but the latter dragged his shot wide because he was unbalanced. Christian Pulisic replaced an injured Mason Mount at the half-hour mark. Both sides created openings, but neither could change the scoreline. Chelsea picked and probed while Palmeiras defended the space in front of their box. Their low block meant Chelsea’s defenders could advance with the ball. In the last minute of the first half, Thiago Silva strode forward and unleashed a piledriver from long-range that took a deflection and went wide. Antonio Rudiger headed the resulting corner over the bar. The first half ended goalless.
Chelsea started the second on fire as Rudiger peppered the goal from range. In the 54th minute, Chelsea took the lead against their South American counterparts. Callum Hudson-Odoi went down the wing before sending a brilliant cross for Lukaku to head home. Chelsea 1-0 Palmeiras.
Christian Pulisic pushed forward and fired wide after the run as Chelsea tried to establish dominance. Palmeiras did not let that happen though as Thiago Silva conceded a penalty after putting his hand in an unnatural position in the box. Rafael Veiga smashed it into the lower left of Mendy while the keeper went the opposite way. Chelsea 1-1 Palmeiras.
The goal rattled the London club and they struggled to settle. Kai Havertz fired wide from an awkward angle before Veiga fired straight at Mendy under pressure. On 72, N’golo Kante found space to drive and set the ball for Lukaku who laid it off for Pulisic. The American fired narrowly wide from his left boot. Timo Werner replaced Lukaku and Saul replaced CHO. Wesley replaced Rony while Eduard Atuesta replaced the other scorer Veiga. Things were tight and tentative as the game headed into extra time.
Malang Sarr and Hakim Ziyech replaced Mateo Kovacic and Andreas Christensen while Rafael Navarro replaced Ze Rafael. Chelsea dominated proceedings in the extra time. Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic combined to hit the crossbar in the 98th minute. It may not have counted as the German was offside in the buildup. Dudu was replaced by Jailson. Werner blasted an effort over the bar from an acute angle before Ziyech floated in a glorious ball that Palmeiras struggled with. From the corner, Azpilicueta’s shot hit Luan in the arm and after the ref played on, VAR called him back. He gave the penalty and Havertz struck the spot-kick home for the winner. Chelsea 2-1 Palmeiras.
There was more drama as Luan tripped Havertz who was in on goal. He was given a red card in the 120th minute. Chelsea held on and won the Club World Cup for the first time in their history. Roman Abramovic has overseen 20 trophies in 19 years at the club while Azpilicueta becomes the first Chelsea player to do a clean sweep of titles. Congratulations to the champions of the world!