Al Ahly finished third at the Club World Cup after a chaotic play-off saw them win 4-0 against an Al Hilal side who had two players red-carded in the opening 28 minutes.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly were on easy street for much of the game, with Saudi rivals Al Hilal the architects of their own downfall.

Al Ahly took an eighth-minute lead when Yasser Ibrahim headed in from close range, and the first red followed six minutes later when Matheus Pereira went in dangerously on Amr El Soleya near the halfway line.

Another close-range header from Ibrahim put Al Ahly two goals to the good, after Mohamed Hany's fizzing 25-yard drive was parried by Mohammed Al Owais.

A laughably petulant off-the-ball kick by Mohamed Kanno on goalscorer Ibrahim resulted in a second red being brandished by referee Clement Turpin shortly before the half-hour mark, and it was 3-0 inside 40 minutes when Ahmed Radwan danced through the depleted and deflated opposition ranks to flick home from five yards.

El Soleya scored the goal of the game to make it 4-0 in the 64th minute, drilling a 28-yard strike into the bottom-left corner.

Chelsea assistant coach Zsolt Low heaped praise on Kepa Arrizabalaga following his impressive display in the Club World Cup semi-final win over Al-Hilal.

The 2020-21 Champions League winners progressed to the final of the competition, where they will face Palmeiras after scraping past the Asian champions 1-0.

Romelu Lukaku's 32nd-minute strike settled the contest at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, but it was a generally lacklustre display by Chelsea.

After controlling large periods of the first half, recording 61.9 per cent of possession, the Blues only registered 45.4 per cent after the break and had to rely on important saves from Kepa to keep Al-Hilal at bay.

The Spain international, who was given the nod ahead of Edouard Mendy following the latter's return from his Africa Cup of Nations triumph with Senegal, denied Plymouth Argyle's Ryan Hardie from the penalty spot in the narrow FA Cup victory on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the pick of his saves against Al-Hilal four days on saw him deny Mohamed Kanno in brilliant fashion.

And Low, who oversaw Chelsea in the absence of Thomas Tuchel following a positive COVID-19 test, highlighted the performance of his goalkeeper.

"[Kepa's] very important," he said. "In the cup, he did a big performance to save the penalty. 

"Today when we needed him, he was there and made one big save. 

"He's in very good shape; he plays and trains well. We're lucky to have him. 

"In the next days, we have to decide who plays the final. 

"We're waiting for Thomas' opinion and the goalkeeping coaches before we take the decision for the final."

Low also applauded Lukaku, who netted his first goal since the 5-1 win over Chesterfield in the FA on January 8.

Other than his strike, though, the Belgium international registered just one shot on goal – straight at the goalkeeper – and was caught offside on three occasions.

Nevertheless, Low insisted he was delighted with the striker's efforts.

"Everyone's very happy he scored," he added. 

"He fought very hard and tried hard in the last game; that's why we gave him the chance. 

"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."

Chelsea made hard work of reaching the Club World Cup final with a 1-0 win against Al Hilal in the last four on Wednesday.

Thomas Tuchel's side – playing without their coach following his positive coronavirus test – were in control from the outset and should never have been in danger of becoming the first European champions to fall short of the final since Manchester United in 2000.

But slack play in the final third, when both shooting and playing the final pass, meant Romelu Lukaku's first-half strike was their only goal and Kepa Arrizabalaga had to step up at the other end. 

Asian champions Al Hilal, who had scored six against Al Jazira in the previous round, remained in the game until the final whistle but could not find the leveller to prevent Chelsea advancing to face Palmeiras in Saturday's decider.

Setting the tone for much of the contest, Lukaku had initially been frustrated in his pursuit of a first goal in more than a month, repeatedly taking up promising positions without finding the finishing touch.

But Chelsea's record signing could not miss on 32 minutes when Kai Havertz's cross bounced kindly off unwitting defender Yasser Al-Shahrani into the six-yard box, allowing the forward to slam into the net right-footed.

Havertz came close to scoring himself at the start of the second half as he followed a brilliant run down the left by beating Abdullah Al-Mayoof from a tight angle, only for the ball to bounce back out off the near post.

With Al Hilal still just one behind, Kepa was twice required to come to Chelsea's rescue, advancing from his line to block from Moussa Marega and then pulling off a sublime stop from Mohamed Kanno.

An extended spell of pressure followed, but Chelsea held on to give themselves a second shot at a first Club World Cup title after 2012's final failure.


What does it mean? Improvement needed to avoid final repeat

Wasteful Chelsea underperformed their expected goals total of 1.60, but that figure also does not take into account the numerous occasions when the final ball was not quite right or Lukaku mistimed his run.

Such profligacy allowed Al Hilal to grow into the game and rack up 12 shots worth a combined 0.95 xG themselves – albeit while similarly failing to convert.

Palmeiras, Chelsea's final opponents, may not be quite so forgiving, and Blues supporters have painful memories of coming up short against Brazilian opponents after Corinthians were crowned world champions 10 years ago.

Keeper Kepa keeps delivering

Edouard Mendy enjoyed a warm welcome as he linked up with the Chelsea squad having won the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, but the goalkeeper has scarcely been missed – particularly in the past two matches.

Kepa counted an 118th-minute penalty among four saves in a nervy FA Cup win over Plymouth Argyle on Saturday and had to be at his best again against Al Hilal. There were three stops this time, with his save from Kanno the game's standout moment.

Still Luk-ing for best form

Lukaku would have been relieved to get on the scoresheet having not netted since a 5-1 win against Chesterfield on January 8.

Yet there were few signs of a scoring return triggering an improvement in performance levels here. Besides his goal, Lukaku had only one shot – straight at the goalkeeper – while he was caught offside on three occasions.

What's next?

Chelsea play Palmeiras on Saturday for the title after Al Hilal are in action in a third-place play-off against Al Ahly.

Chelsea coach Zsolt Low is confident his side can cope without Thomas Tuchel on the sidelines for Wednesday's Club World Cup semi-final against Al Hilal.

Tuchel missed Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round win against Plymouth Argyle after testing positive for coronavirus and was also unable to fly out to Abu Dhabi.

The German will definitely miss the clash with Asian champions Al Hilal, but he could return for a potential final against either Palmeiras or Al Ahly on Saturday.

Low and Arno Michels will continue to fill in and the former insists Chelsea's preparations have not been hampered too much as Tuchel is providing regular input from London.

"We are constantly in contact with Thomas. We're using video calling all the time," Low said at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

"We change our ideas a lot of times in the day. We have good conversation to make it like he is here with us together.

"Petr Cech supports us well when Thomas is not here. We have a good medical staff, team management. We have a lot of support. And a lot of video calls with Thomas. 

"He'll support us as best he can and give us every day preparation in meetings. In the next days there's the possibility to talk to the team."

 

Despite the four-hour time difference between London and the United Arab Emirates, Low says Tuchel is available at any time of the day.

"It's not necessary for him to change time zone. We have meetings with an alarm call," he said. "If we need him at 6am, we need him at 6am. 

"We are training in the afternoon so Thomas is already awake then anyway. In the hotel it's a bit easier for him to chat to the team because of the connection. 

"Maybe here in the dressing room can be more difficult. We all the time have phone contact also during the game so he can analyse and try to translate to the team.

"Phone calls and messages aren't Thomas' strongest part but he needs to be prepared and ready and be with us on the phone. He's been absolutely perfect in the last few days."

Tuchel is continuing to isolate, but if he returns a negative test by Thursday he will be in place for this weekend's final – assuming Chelsea first overcome Al Hilal.

"He'll follow the government rules, get tested every day and we hope the next will be negative so he can travel as fast as possible and enjoy the group and the team," Low said. 

"We hope but we have texts, phone calls, video calls and give him the feeling he's with us. We need his absolute support. In 24 hours he could be here."

Al Hilal beat Al Jazira 6-1 to set up a showdown with Chelsea, who are looking to add the Club World Cup to their collection following last year's Champions League triumph.

The Blues were beaten 1-0 by Corinthians in the final in their only participation in the tournament a decade ago, but they are favourites to go all the win this time around.

"We have to take that role after winning the Champions League," Low said. "We know we're a good team and play a good game but Al Hilal are very good.

"Leonardo Jardim is a very good coach and they have a very good team. We take the role as favourites but for sure it will be a difficult game tomorrow."

The Champions League winners have made the final of the Club World Cup at 16 of the previous 17 editions, with Manchester United in 2000 the only exception.

Chelsea have lost just one of their past 15 games in all competitions, meanwhile, with their only loss in that period coming against Premier League champions Manchester City.

The English heavyweights will be without Reece James against Al Hilal, despite the defender being included in their squad, while Mason Mount will undergo a late fitness test.

Edouard Mendy is also set to link up with the squad ahead of the match, despite featuring for Senegal in Sunday's Africa Cup of Nations final win against Egypt.

Al Hilal thumped hosts Al Jazira 6-1 on Sunday to book their place in the Club World Cup semi-finals against Chelsea.

2020-21 UAE Pro League champions Al Jazira opened the scoring through Abdoulay Diaby after 14 minutes, but goals from former Premier League forwards Odion Ighalo and Matheus Pereira put Al Hilal into the lead before the break.

That narrow lead was extended into an emphatic scoreline in the second half, as Mohamed Kanno, Salem Al-Dawsari, Moussa Marega and Andre Carrillo all found the back of the net.

Asian champions Al Hilal will face European counterparts Chelsea in the last four on February 9, while Al Jazira play Monterrey earlier that same day in the fifth-place play-off.

Al Jazira got the Club World Cup under way with a 4-1 win over Tahitian side Pirae in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

Hosts Al Jazira, who qualified by virtue of winning the UAE Pro League in 2020-21, were unsurprisingly a cut above their opponents, racing into a 3-0 lead by half-time.

Pirae – nominated for participation by OFC – did get on the scoresheet early in the second half thanks to an own goal, but Al Jazira finished them off just past the hour through the well-travelled Abdoulay Diaby.

Al Jazira will face Saudi Arabia's Asian champions Al Hilal in the second round, and the winner of that contest shall play European champions Chelsea in the second semi-final on February 9.

Al Hilal lifted the AFC Champions League trophy for a record fourth time as Nasser Al-Dawsari's memorable first-minute strike set them on the way to a 2-0 win over Pohang Steelers.

At the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, left-back Al-Dawsari produced a spectacular opener, and a clinical finish after the break from Moussa Marega tied up the triumph.

The breakthrough came inside 17 seconds with a remarkable long-range strike from Al-Dawsari, who snatched the ball in midfield and drove forward before lashing into the top-left corner from 28 yards with his left boot.

There was almost an equally dazzling reply from Sin Jin-ho in the 12th minute when he rattled the bar from the edge of the penalty area, the fingertips of goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayoof preventing the ball dipping in.

The ball fell to Lim Sang-hyub, but again Al-Mayoof made the save, scrambling to block the close-range shot.

Matheus Pereira thrashed a free-kick over the bar as Al Hilal looked for a second goal, while Pohang's Go Young-joon sent a shot skidding wide at the other end.

It was Marega who made sure in the 63rd minute, taking a throughball from Bafetimbi Gomis in his stride and firing low across goal into the left corner.

Victory means Al Hilal are now the outright most successful team in competition history, edging ahead of Tuesday's opponents who came into the game also with three previous titles.

Salem Al Dawsari struck lucky with a deflected winner as Al Hilal beat Al Nassr 2-1 in a thrilling Riyadh derby to reach the AFC Champions League final.

Anderson Talisca had headed 10-man Al Nassr level following an early opener from Moussa Marega, but Al Dawsari had the decisive say when his 15-yard strike took a wicked deflection for what proved to be the winning goal in the 71st minute.

At the King Saud University Stadium, three-time competition champions Al Hilal snatched a 17th-minute lead when Marega timed his run perfectly to meet a pass from Bafetimbi Gomis. The striker's powerful shot looped in off defender Abdullah Madu, beating Waleed Ali's dive.

Talisca twice went close to levelling just after the half-hour mark, firstly with a low shot from a tight angle that keeper Abdullah Al-Mayoof scrappily pushed out. Brazilian Talisca then struck a rasping drive from wide on the right flank that grazed the right post.

Al Nassr lost a man in first-half stoppage time, left-back Ali Al Lajami sent off for a wild challenge on Marega, catching the striker dangerously on the shin.

Abderazak Hamdallah had a shot turned wide for a corner by Al Hilal keeper Al-Mayoof, but there was no denying Talisca from the set-piece, as he headed powerfully into the right corner from Abdulfattah Asiri's delivery for a 50th-minute leveller.

Al Dawsari headed wide from a great opportunity for Al Hilal, but he made amends in the 71st minute, albeit with a huge slice of luck. His shot came off Al Nassr captain Madu and nestled in the left corner of the goal, wrong-footing Waleed as a second deflected strike beat the goalkeeper.

Nasser Al-Dawsari hit the bar with a delicate 18-yard chip as Al Nassr chased the leveller that never came, Madu firing six inches wide with almost the last kick of the game.

The second semi-final takes place on Wednesday in Jeonju, as Ulsan Hyundai take on fellow South Korean outfit Pohang Steelers.

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