TOYOTA, AICHI PREFECTURE – Paolo Guerrero scored the winner as Brazilian and South American champions Corinthians edged African representatives Al-Ahly 1-0 on Wednesday to reach the Club World Cup final.
The Peruvian striker headed the clincher in the 30th minute in bitterly cold conditions at Toyota Stadium, setting up a date with either European champions Chelsea or Mexican outfit Monterrey in Sunday’s final in Yokohama.
Chelsea and Monterrey face off in the second semifinal at Nissan Stadium on Thursday.
“We had a huge responsibility and we were expecting the match to be this difficult,” said Corinthians coach Tite, whose side were second best for much of the second half.
“We were trying to score another goal in the second half and make sure we win. We were trying to be a bit more aggressive and play at a higher tempo, but mentally we were under pressure and could not break through.”
Corinthians, making their bow in this year’s Club World Cup 12 years after winning the inaugural competition, kept Al-Ahly goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy on his toes with a flurry of raids on goal in the early stages and made the breakthrough on the half hour.
Douglas sent a high curling ball into the danger zone with the outside of his left foot and Guerrero shrugged off his marker to head into the far corner, sparking wild celebrations among the sizeable contingent of boisterous Corinthians fans that have made the long journey from Brazil.
Chances were few and far between for the Egyptians in the first half, although Ramy Rabia ought to have done better with a free header after 11 minutes.
Al-Ahly lost Ekramy to injury midway through the second half and he was replaced by Mahmoud Abou Elseoud, yet they still went on to control the rest of the match but missed a great chance to equalize through Elsayed Hamdi and could not find a way through.
“I am frustrated that we lost because it was a really good performance from the players today and I was hoping that we would win,” said Al-Ahly coach Hossam El Badry.
“There were some technical errors that affected the way I expected us to play, but I think the performance itself was better than Corinthians’. If you compare the performance we deserved to win.”
Earlier in the day, Hisato Sato lived up to his billing as J. League Player of the Year with a second-half brace as Sanfrecce Hiroshima secured continental bragging rights and fifth place with a 3-2 win over South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai.
Japan defender Hiroki Mizumoto gifted Asian champions Ulsan the lead with a 17th-minute own goal, but Satoru Yamagishi leveled from close range shortly before halftime before setting up Sato for the second on 56 minutes.
Sato, the J. League Golden Boot winner with 22 goals this season, ensured Hiroshima wrapped up their championship winning year on a high with his third of the tournament late in the second half. Lee Yong replied for Ulsan in the fifth minute of injury time with the last kick of the game.
“I didn’t take my chances in the last game and we couldn’t get to the semifinals and I wanted to do whatever I could to score goals and help us win the game today,” said Sato.
“Finishing fifth and sixth are two different things and I am glad we were able to deliver a solid performance here in Japan.”