RABAT, 8 Feb 2023:
Al-Hilal became the first Saudi team to qualify for the final of the Club World Cup in Morocco with a surprising 3-2 victory yesterday over Brazil’s Flamengo, who played the entire second half with 10 men.
Flamengo, the wealthiest and most popular club in soccer-mad Brazil, beat Liverpool in 1981 to win the Intercontinental Cup (precursor to the Club World Cup) and were seen as favourites against the side from Riyadh.
But the Asian Champions League holders grabbed an early lead after Matheuzinho fouled Luciano Vietto in the box inside the third minute and the referee pointed to the spot.
Salem Aldawsari, the hero of Saudi Arabia’s stunning defeat of eventual winners Argentina at World Cup 2022 in Qatar, converted with authority to the delight of most of the 42,000-plus crowd in the stands at Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangiers.
The Copa Libertadores champions were not slow to react and Brazil international Pedro brought the team from Rio de Janeiro level in the 20th minute with a low blast.
The sides looked set to head to the brake at 1-1, but deep in first-half stoppage time, Vietto went down again in the area and VAR intervened.
This time, the offender was Gerson – already on a yellow card – and when VAR determined that Vietto was fouled, the Flamengo midfielder was sent off before Aldawsari reclaimed the lead for Al-Hilal from the penalty spot.
Only poor aim by Khalifa Al-Dawsari prevented Al-Hilal from extending their advantage early in the second half.
Flamengo’s Gabigol squandered a great opportunity in the 69th minute and Vietto made it 3-1 for Al-Hilal with a goal on the ensuing counter.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Pedro pounced on a loose ball in front of the Al-Hilal net and hammered it home to narrow the deficit for Flamengo to one goal.
But the Saudi team are headed to the final in Rabat, where they will face the winner of today’s clash between Real Madrid and Egypt’s Al-Ahly.