Christian Pulisic and Chelsea were made to work for their first-ever FIFA Club World Cup, finally overcoming South American champions with a 117th winner by Kai Havertz from the spot on Saturday evening.
Chelsea 2 – 1 Palmeiras (a.e.t.)
Pulisic initially began the game in Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on the bench, however ended up playing from the half-hour onwards in place of injured Mason Mount, who had originally been selected to start ahead of Hakim Ziyech by Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel.
In his 90 total minutes, the Hershey-born attacker was an active presence, with 55 total ball contacts, three shots and 27/31 passing. Overall the Blues were by far the more dominant side, holding just over 70% of possession and outshooting the Brazilians by almost a 2-1 margin (20 vs. 11 shots), and displayed a vastly superior passing game.
Still, they were made to work for their trophy over an exhausting 120+ minutes, only barely avoiding a penalty shootout, which would have been Chelsea’s keeper Édouard Mendy’s second in the space of six days, following his success in the African Cup of Nations final.
From the opening kick, the Brazilians were happy to sit back, absorb pressure and look for opportunities to catch the European champions off-guard on the counter, however it led to little real danger around Mendy’s goal. The first notable such action occurred after 24 minutes when Dudu’s shot from distance was well over the bar, and the Palmeiras forward’s follow-up attempt four minutes later was wide of the mark.
Pulisic was called into action in the 31st minute when Mount was forced to leave the game with what appeared to be an ankle injury.
The American was immediately in the center of the action, drawing a foul after 37 minutes, but he sent the resulting dead-ball attempt too high and wide left.
Chelsea had a flurry of chances in the final moments before the halftime whistle, with Thiago Silva the key man, but his three attempts were barely off the mark.
They were finally able to turn their dominance on the ball to a number on the scoreboard nine minutes after the restart, when Callum Hudson-Odoi was sprung free on the left flank by Mateo Kovacic, and raced towards the endline. He launched a precision cross in front of goal, where Romelu Lukaku was waiting at the edge of the six-yard box to strike a powerful header for the 1-0 lead.
Pulisic was close to making it 2-0 moments later, firing a distance shot just wide left, but it would be the Brazilians celebrating an equalizer at the opposite end just past the hour.
While leaping to defend a long-throw in that led to some limited chaos in front of their goal, Silva’s hand brushed the ball, leading to a spot kick awarded to Palmeiras after a VAR review. Raphael Veiga sent Mendy the wrong way with his penalty attempt, hitting it to the lower right corner to put the teams back on even terms.
Chelsea had the better of chances in the final going, with Pulisic coming closest in the 73rd minute with a shot wide-left from the center of the area, but without any success breaking through the game was thrown into 30 minutes of overtime.
The extra period played out much as the majority of regulation had, with Chelsea providing pressure and Palmeiras doing well to absorb and defend the onslaught, looking to force a final penalty shootout. Pulisic provided the closest opportunity just before the 100th minute, seeing a deflected shot hit the woodwork.
Nevertheless, on a 115th minute corner, a last-ditch attempt from Cesar Azpilicueta from near the spot smacked the arm of defender Luan, leading to a penalty for Chelsea following a short VAR review.
Havertz was selected to do the honors, taking a slight stutter on his approach, just enough to force keeper Weverton to commit to his left, with the German placing his low shot to the opposite side for the final winner.
Luan’s bad night wasn’t over yet, as he was awarded a red card in the 126th minute for a reckless take-down of the streaking Havertz, however the game was already decided, with Chelsea lifting their first ever Club World Cup trophy in Abu Dhabi.
The Blues will have a week to celebrate and get their minds back to domestic and European competition. They visit Crystal Palace in Premier League action next Saturday, then host Tim Weah and Lille three days in the Champions League knockout phase.