RABAT: The drums rang loud for Morocco's Wydad AC on a sunny and dramatic Saturday afternoon in Rabat at the FIFA Club World Cup, but they were ultimately silenced by Al-Hilal’s Musab Al-Juwayr.
The teenage midfielder scored the final kick to win a penalty shootout 5-3 for the Saudi Arabian giants after the game had ended 1-1. The Asian champions go through at the expense of their African counterparts to the semi-finals and a clash with Brazil’s Flamengo. It should be quite a match if this was anything to go by.
Two hours of action packed football ended 1-1 but there was much more to it than that. A header early in the second half from Wydad's Ayoub Emloud had fans in the North African country as excited as they were during the 2022 World Cup, when Morocco reached the semi-final and became the toast of Qatar.
Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better.
One of the few times the home crowd were silenced came in added time as Yahya Jabrane, captain of the African champions, was sent off for protesting at a penalty. Mohamed Kanno fired home the resultant spot kick to send the game into extra-time during which he was also dismissed by the referee.
It was then penalties and Al-Hilal scored all theirs, while Wydad missed one.
For a long time however, it look as if the 18-time Saudi champions were going home in a clash that kept the 45,000 capacity crowd at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium entertained. The arena may be in Rabat but it certainly felt and, more importantly, sounded like a home match in Casablanca for the Moroccan powerhouse. The red wall behind the goals rarely stopped bouncing and singing to roar the team in white forward.
It seemed to work as Wydad started brightly in the opening exchanges and looked dangerous especially from set pieces with Yahya Jabrane firing over from a free-kick.
Indeed, the pressure seemed to have paid off after 19 minutes when they thought they had taken the lead as Jalal Daoudi swept the ball home from close range. The veteran midfielder was, however, correctly adjudged to have been offside from the assistant referee.
Al-Hilal’s first real attempt on goal came after 23 minutes but Nasser Al-Dawsari sent a free-kick from a dangerous position well over the bar.
As the half progressed, Al-Hilal got into the game more though the home team continued to have better chances such as the attempt on the stroke of half-time. Wydad’s new Cameroonian forward Didier Lamkel Ze sent over a fine cross from the left but Ayoub El-Amloud was unable to get enough on it and the defender’s glancing header went wide.
Al-Hilal came close right after the restart. A Salem Al-Dawsari corner from the right fell to Ali Al-Buhali and his snap shot from close range was cleared off the line by Lamkel Ze.
In the 51st minute, Wydad’s eighth corner kick made the difference as El-Amloud rose at the far post to send a powerful header past Abdullah Al-Mayouf.
The Asian champions sprung into action but struggled to turn pressure into chances, though they came close with 20 minutes remaining when Odion Ighalo’s shot from close range was well-saved by Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti and Salem Al-Dawsari’s follow-up was blocked on the line by Amine Farhane.
Al-Hilal, who have never progressed past the semi-finals at this tournament, pushed forward in search of an equaliser and the chance came at the end of normal time as they were awarded a penalty thanks to a handball in the area. Wydad’s captain Jabrane was booked twice in quick succession and was sent off.
Amid the furore, Kanno kept his cool to slot the ball straight down the middle and suddenly the impetus had swung in favor of the Asian champions and Luciano Vietto almost won the game in the eighth minute of injury time as the Argentine’s free-kick was pushed away by the goalkeeper.
The Riyadh giants could not get the winner before extra-time and when the game restarted they were soon reduced to 10 men themselves as Kanno was given a second yellow card for a foul.
And then it was five penalties each. After Moussa Marega scored the opener for Al-Hilal, Yahia Attiyat Allah’s shot hit both posts but did not go in and Wydad were in trouble. Vietto, Saleh Al-Shehri and then Abdullah Al-Hamdan scored for the Riyadh club to leave substitute Al-Jawary to deliver the glory and a ticket to the last four.