The dream of an all-Arab FIFA Club World Cup final is over, after Real Madrid defeated Al-Ahly of Egypt 4-1 on Wednesday in the second semi-final.
It came a day after Al-Hilal claimed their place in the final with an impressive victory over Brazilian side Flamengo. And though they will not face their regional rivals, the reality of the situation is still pretty special: The Saudi and Asian title-holders will face the 14-time European champions in Saturday’s decider. Either the Riyadh giants will be crowned world champions for the first time or their Madrid counterparts will take the title for a fifth time.
Al-Ahly, meanwhile, will have to watch as their regional neighbors take on arguably the biggest club in the world and, perhaps, rue what might have been, because the one-sided scoreline on Wednesday did not reflect the problems they caused Real Madrid.
Regardless, the Red Giants can take some comfort from the fact that although they fell short against Los Blancos, as have many before them, they did themselves, their country and their continent proud. There is no doubt that Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti’s words of comfort and consolation for opposite number Marcel Koller were heartfelt. The game was an enthralling and tight contest until the final few minutes. The 10-time African champions, unbeaten in the Egyptian Premier League after 15 games this season under Koller, and victorious in this tournament over Oceania champions Auckland City and CONCACAF title-holders the Seattle Sounders, gave as good as they got.
After 18 minutes, Mohammed Sherif fired just over the bar from the left side of the area and, soon after, Mohammed Abdelmonem’s header from a corner also narrowly cleared the woodwork. On the half-hour mark, Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin saved well from a Hussein El-Shahat shot. It was all looking very promising for the Egyptians.
That effort came just after Real striker Rodrygo had burst into the left side of the area and hit the post. Indeed, as the half progressed, the Europeans looked more and more dangerous. Still, it was looking as if the two teams were going to go into the dressing rooms at half-time level — only for the Spanish side to open the scoring.
A mix-up in the Egyptian defense let in Vinicius Junior and the Brazilian winger lifted the ball smartly over goalkeeper Mohammed El-Shenawy.
The next goal was always going to be crucial and once again it went the way of the team in light blue. Just after the restart, a smart through ball from Luka Modric found Rodrygo in the area. His shot was blocked but there was Federico Valverde, who had time to steady himself, pick his spot and extend his team’s lead.
It seemed as if the game as a contest was over but, almost immediately, the impressive El-Shahat had a great chance to reduce Madrid’s lead. It was not to be.
Just after the hour, however, Al-Ahly were handed a lifeline, in the form of a penalty, when El-Shahat was brought down by Eduardo Camavinga. Ali Maaloul stepped up and left Lunin with no chance. Suddenly anything was possible and, seconds later, the North Africans should have been level, only for Afsha to shoot high from a great position. At this point, the African side were looking more likely to score than their opponents.
But then, with five minutes left, the video assistant referee ruled that Vinicius had been brought down in the area by Amr El-Solia. It was a soft penalty and justice was done when El-Shenawy saved well from Modric’s spot-kick. In the end, though, it did not matter as Rodrygo added his second and his team’s third in stoppage time. It was harsh on Al-Ahly, and even more so when substitute Sergio Arribas added a fourth with the last kick of the game.
Now the most successful team in the history of this tournament, with four titles, have a chance to make it five but they will know it will not be easy. Al-Hilal have already disposed of Wydad AC, the African champions who were playing on home soil, and then South American champions Flamengo in a thrilling semi-final. The La Liga giants will be strong favorites but Al-Hilal have nothing to lose.
Al-Ahly, meanwhile, can finish third for a third tournament in a row if they defeat Flamengo at the weekend, before returning home to what is looking like a very promising Egyptian Premier League season for them.