TOYOTA, Japan, December 12 – Brazilian giants Corinthians overcame Egypt’s Al Ahly 1-0 in the last four of the Club World Cup in Japan on Wednesday to set up a likely final against European champions Chelsea.
A solitary goal from centre-forward Paolo Guerrero was enough to see the Copa Libertadores winners progress, but it was nowhere near a convincing performance.
Much had been expected from the South American champions, including Chelsea transfer target Paulinho, and the Brazilians dominated possession in the first half with Al Ahly happy to let their opponents knock the ball around.
However, they were unable to turn possession into chances and goal-scoring opportunities were few and far between during the opening period.
Corinthians midfielder Douglas was the first to go close, the number ten’s shot from the edge of the box creeping past goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy’s right-hand post on nine minutes.
Moments later Ramy Rabia missed a golden opportunity to put Al Ahly in front, heading wide from an unmarked position as the Corinthians’ defence stepped forward and failed to catch him offside.
The Sao Paulo club breathed a sigh of relief and regrouped, continuing to see most of the ball and on the half-hour mark they had their breakthrough, with Douglas again in the thick of the action.
The left-footed player floated an inch-perfect cross into the box that Guerrero headed across goal into the bottom corner, giving Ekramy no chance and sending the upwards of 20,000 Corinthians fans into raptures.
Corinthians pressed for a second as midfield dynamo Paulinho started to make inroads into the opposition half, but a second goal inside the first 45 minutes was not forthcoming.
In the second half it was all Al Ahly as the Egyptians surged forward, desperately looking for an equaliser.
Midfielder Ahmed Fathi wasted the best chance for the seven-time African champions with a low shot into the side netting as the Corinthians defence started to look increasingly uncomfortable.
As the clock ran down a spirited Al Ahly began to send the ball into the opposition’s box at every opportunity but they were unable to level the game.
“I am frustrated that we lost. The players performed very well and I was hoping we could win,” Al Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry said.
Corinthians boss Tite said he was “extremely satisfied” with his side’s first half performance, adding that he felt they deserved to win overall.
“In the first half everything was dominated by Corinthians,” he said.
“But we weren’t able to get the second goal so that encouraged Al Ahly.
“The second half was a totally different game. They started to connect passes and became more aggressive… That was why we had a hard time.
“But if you compare both halves you will understand why we were the winners.”
The South American champions will probably face Chelsea in Sunday’s final in Yokohama, though the English Premier League club first need to dispose of Mexican side Monterrey in the other semi-final on Thursday.
Earlier at Toyota Stadium, J-League winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat the AFC Champions League holders Ulsan Hyundai 3-2 to secure fifth place at the intercontinental showpiece.
The Japanese champions went 1-0 down, but bounced back to take a 3-1 lead, thanks to two goals from forward Hisato Sato, before conceding a late consolation goal.