ABU DHABI: Chelsea may be 16 points behind Manchester City in the English Premier League but they are world champions.
A penalty converted by Kai Havertz three minutes from the end of extra time earned the Blues a 2-1 victory in Abu Dhabi in their FIFA Club World Cup final against Brazil’s Palmeiras.
Romelu Lukaku’s 10th goal of the season had Chelsea hoping of a quick conclusion in their bid to complete the clean sweep of major global club trophies.
But Palmeiras had other ideas and Raphael Veiga’s penalty sent the clash into extra-time at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.
The otherwise-flawless Thiago Silva was penalised for handball for Veiga’s spot-kick, in a frustrating moment for the 37-year-old Brazil defender against his compatriots.
But Chelsea were rewarded for refusing to tighten up in the extra 30 minutes and duly succeeding where the Blues had failed in Japan in 2012.
Palmeiras defender Luan conceded the spot-kick that allowed Chelsea to seal their victory – and was then sent off with almost the night’s final act, scything down Havertz as he was through on goal.
The Brazilian club from Sao Paolo produced a fine performance of industry and endeavour in stifling Chelsea, but the Londoners’ superior quality and grit eventually told.
To add to their status as Champions League and European Super Cup holders, Chelsea are now world champions for the first time.
The onlooking Roman Abramovich appeared as nervy as the smattering of Chelsea fans, at one point caught hugging his knees amid the tension of a sultry Abu Dhabi night.
But the billionaire has now overseen Chelsea’s full house of major club titles, since purchasing the club in 2003.
As delirious Blues players danced and hugged in a circle on the pitch, manager Thomas Tuchel was even able to partake in those celebrations, having made it out to Abu Dhabi after Covid-19 self-isolation.
Tuchel said: “It is for Mr Abramovich, there is no doubt that it is for him. We met quickly on the pitch after the final, he said ‘congratulations’ and I said ‘congratulations, it’s for you, it’s your club and it’s your input and your passion that made this possible’ and I’m happy to be part of it. So of course the trophy is for him.”
The 16,000 Palmeiras faithful ignited the capacity crowd some two hours before kick-off.
The FIFA pre-match show dampened the atmosphere somewhat as the Brazilians took a breather, but the green-clad revellers were back to non-stop chanting come kick-off.
Palmeiras’ low block frustrated Chelsea time and again, but also the Stamford Bridge men were unable to find any real rhythm.
Callum Hudson-Odoi’s deep cross evaded everyone in the box as a clutch of players tumbled over each other.
Azpilicueta rose to his feet to find himself in a fine position with Palmeiras keeper Weverton possibly stranded, but the Chelsea captain lost his bearings and the chance evaporated.
Palmeiras talent Dudu whipped over the bar after a smart spinning effort, then spurned a major chance by firing just wide after a quick break.
Mason Mount was then forced to trudge disconsolately out of the contest, in perhaps a recurrence of the leg issue that he had picked up in the 2-1 FA Cup win over Plymouth.
Chelsea’s match-specific system demanded Thiago Silva act as playmaker, and his raking balls were often close to bisecting the Brazilians’ defence.
A lack of movement and fluidity ahead though eventually led him to thump in a long-range effort that nearly caught Weverton cold.
The Palmeiras stopper pushed the ball around the post at full stretch, but Chelsea could make nothing happen from the resulting corner.
Chelsea’s sparse fans only managed to make themselves heard for the first time in the opening moments of the second-half, such was the Palmeiras dominance in the stands.
The first time Chelsea broke in behind Palmeiras on the flank, the Blues took the lead.
Hudson-Odoi’s first left-footed cross of the match proved a real peach and Lukaku’s finish just as sweet.
The Blues expected to take control but were quickly pegged back instead, as the previously-flawless Silva was punished for a handball in the area.
Silva handled when battling with Gustavo Gomez for a clearing header, and the penalty was awarded after a VAR check.
Veiga showed no nerves when rifling the spot-kick home, sending Mendy the wrong way.
Neither side could force any further breakthrough in an edgy end to normal time, and so an extra 30 minutes rolled around.
Chelsea set about trying to win the title without any need for penalties and Pulisic almost forced a second Blues goal.
The US forward’s cut-back was deflected goalwards, only to loop onto the bar and bounce to safety for the relieved Palmeiras defence.
Just when the tie looked headed for a shoot-out however, Chelsea won an extra-time spot-kick instead.
Luan was penalised for blocking a shot with his hand after another VAR review and Havertz kept his cool to fire home in style.
Luan was then sent off to add insult to his personal injury, but the Blues deserved their win in the end, and the chance to complete their trophy cabinet.
1st rnd – Feb 3: Al Jazira (UAE) v AS Pirae (Tah). 2nd rnd – Feb 5: Al Ahly (Egy) 1, Monterrey (Mex) 0. Feb 6: Al-Hilal (SAr) 6, Al Jazira 1. Semi-finals – Feb 8: Palmeiras 2, Al Ahly 0. Feb 9: Chelsea 1, Al-Hilal 0. Feb 12: Third place: Al Ahly 4, Al-Hilal 0. Final: Palmeiras 0, Chelsea 1 (aet).