FIFA Club World Cup, FIFA World Cup

  • Al Hilal edge Esperance Sportive de Tunis 1-0 to book a spot in semis
  • AFC Champions League winnersface Flamengo in next round
  • *Albulayhi reflects on the win over ES Tunis and looks forward to facing Flamengo

Al Hilal secured a spot in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019™ by seeing off Esperance Sportive de Tunis. While credit goes to Bafetimbi Gomis, who scored the game’s solitary goal, Al Hilal’s back line was solid from beginning to end, managing to thwart the best efforts of Anice Badri and Ibrahim Ouattara and keep a vital clean sheet. 

Among few alarms for the Saudi giants’ was a deflection from Yasser Alshahrani that forced keeper Abdullah Almuaiouf to scramble back to his line and claw the ball clear midway through the second period. In a post-match interview*, Al Hilal defender Ali Albulayhi said, “It was a mistake from all of us. That’s football and mistakes can always happen, but luckily Almuaiouf was on high alert and saved it.”

The scare did not deter Al Hilal from pursuing their attacking game until they were rewarded with the winning goal. “I think it was good for us,” said Albulayhi. “It really pushed us to go forward until Gomis gave us the lead.”

Al Hilal were an attacking threat throughout but had to remain patient until Gomis’s strike broke the deadlock. “We played with virtually the same side that won the AFC Champions League,” said Albulayhi, “but luck wasn’t on our side today in front of goal. We shouldn’t forget the game wasn’t easy at all, but ultimately we won and we need to turn our attention now to our upcoming matches.”

Next game vital

While the Al Hilal players appeared happy after the game, it was clear that they have not come to Qatar just to win their opening encounter. Making their way to the team bus, the whole team seemed focused on their upcoming encounter. “We have an important game against Flamengo coming up,” agreed Albulayhi. “We should now turn the page on the Esperance match and focus on the next game.”

Asked about their Brazilian opponents, who should be a tougher proposition than the team from Tunisia, Albulayhi said, “Flamengo are South American champions and they are obviously very strong. Their coach Jesus is also very good. We respect all our opponents but we go into the game determined to win.”

Al Hilal made light of their relative lack of tournament experience and hectic fixture schedule to win their first game in their maiden appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup. It seems fair, then, for the Saudi team to now aim even higher, despite facing such a tough challenge in the final four. “It’s a good omen to win our first game,” said Albulayhi, “and we’re confident we will make the final. We are aiming for the title, but we will take one game at a time. We got an important win today, and we also want to beat Flamengo. Only then we will think of the final.”

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