Palmeiras’ journey to once more become the best team in the world starts tomorrow Tuesday. The first South American team to participate in consecutive seasons of the FIFA Club World Cup under the current format has had considerable more time to prepare than last year and Abel Ferreira has locked his sights on a fourth title commanding the Big Green.
Some of the participantes of the 2022 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup are already eliminated: neither Al Jazira, AS Pirae or Monterrey will go down in history books as the first non South American or Europen to win the tournament. At least for now.
Monterrey’s elimination was probably the biggest surprise of the tournament until now. In the game that defined Palmeiras’ opponent in the semifinal, Mohamed Hany scored the sole goal of the match to put Al Ahly through. The Egyptian side played without five of their athletes, who were in Egypt’s squad that lost the title of the African Nations Cup against Senegal last Sunday.
Al Ahly are the biggest champions of Egypt and have a certain tradition in the Club World Cup. With at least two more games to play in the tournament, they will compute a total of 18 appearances overall, the most of any side. However, they are yet to reach a final. Their best performances were in 2006 and 2020, when they finished third.
Al Ahly are not unknown to Palmeiras: last year, they defeated the Verdão on penalties in the game for third place, after a goalless draw during regular time. Although only eleven months apart, the last encounter between the teams means nothing to the semifinal ahead. A game for the third place is always played with a certain lack of interest and Palmeiras had an alternative team against the Egyptians last year.
On Wednesday, Chelsea and Al Hilal battle it out for the second spot in the finals. Not since 2005 has the European participant missed out on the final and bookmakers clearly think this year will be no exception.
Nevertheless, Al Hilal feature a number of well-known players. Some have played in the Premier League (André Carrillo, Odion Ighalo and Matheus Pereira) while others have enjoyed relative success in Brazil (Cuéllar and Michael). In the quarterfinals, the Saudi team inflicted upon Al Jazira the biggest beating in the history of the Club World Cup: a resounding 6-1.
Chelsea arrived to the United Arab Emirates without their coach Thomas Tuchel, whom tested positive for COVID-19. It is a setback that can affect their performance, but isn’t enough to decrease their favoritism. The German coach is expected to arrive in the country if the team progresses to the final.
People who like coincidences point out that Chelsea was the last European team to lose a CWC final, in a year finishing with a “2”, to a team from São Paulo that defeated Al Ahly in the semifinal (Corinthians 2012). But the Chelsea from today is very different from the one that failed to exerce their financial power ten years ago.
Chelsea may not be full of stars like a few years back, but the collective of this team is one of the best in Europe. Thomas Tuchel arrived in the middle of the last Champions League and built a very solid defense, protecting his goal with Édouard Mendy, the best goalkeeper in the world according to FIFA The Best award. The midfield with Jorginho, Mason Mount and Kovacic is very strong and technical, and although not in his best shape, Lukaku is a threat in the attack.
The English side still have Kai Havertz, the hero of their Champions League title on the bench, along with Kanté, Timo Werner, Pulišić and Saúl. They should be able to eliminate Al Hilal without drama to progress to the finals. Where, hopefully, Palmeiras await.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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by Augusto Anteghini Oazi
*Here at Anything Palmeiras, we love football. We love Palmeiras. We are always keen to see Palmeiras play, and keen to write about it for you. But we’re against the return of football in a country that still hasn’t controlled the coronavirus pandemic. We express our deepest sympathy to the families whose loved ones have been taken by the disease.