Flamengo 3 Al Hilal 1: Brilliant Bruno Henrique inspires Club World Cup turnaround for Libertadores winner

Bruno Henrique ensured Flamengo did not suffer a shock loss in the Club World Cup as it beat Al Hilal 3-1 and progress to the final.

Ali Albulayhi slid in and scored an own goal in Al Hilal's defeat to Flamengo.   -  Getty Images

Flamengo’s run to the FIFA Club World Cup final was not as easy as its canter to the Brazilian Serie A title, which it won by a 16-point margin – the highest in recent times. The South American side had to overcome a first-half deficit to inflict a 3-1 loss on Asian champion Al Hilal.

Former Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, with the help of a string of veteran Brazilians with European experience, has tried creating a modern team — valuing the ethos of pressing football — unlike the pragmatic approach of coaches like Luiz Felipe Scolari and Dunga, which has long been prevalent in Brazilian club football.

While the new methods have offered grand success at home, Flamengo has found it hard to deal with teams from outside the country as was evident during its laborious Copa Libertadores final win over Argentina’s River Plate.

Here, too, the Brazilians started listlessly with too many miss passes in the middle as Al Hilal looked happy to concede possession and hit its more illustrious opponent on the counter, using the pace of Salem Aldawsari, who played on the left of a midfield three, and his fellow Saudi Arabian international Mohammed Alburayk, operating as a right-wing back.

Italian international Sebastian Giovinco, too, orchestrated some fine moves with his guile and turn, exploiting the space opened up by the burly forward Bafetimbi Gomis, who did well to hold the ball and draw defenders his way.

The Saudi side, cheered on by pockets of faithful, took the lead in the 18th minute when Aldawsari sneaked inside the box to connect a strong right-footer past a diving Diego Alves — left flat-footed following a deflection off Pablo Mari — after Alburayk had run into space on the right before playing a teasing ground pass towards his team-mate.

Flamengo had to wait till the break to assert its dominance and almost immediately after the restart Giorrgian De Arrascaeta equalised with an easy tap-in. With the Asian side showing signs of fatigue, Flamengo took control of the game and found the lead when Bruno Henrique, running into the box, was left unmarked and placed his header on the back of the net after a curling cross from the right by De Arrascaeta in the 78th minute.

More misfortunes were to come Al Hilal’s way as Ali Al-Bulayhi conceded an own goal four minutes later as a shot from Henrique caused panic near the goalmouth.

The Brazilian champion’s ploy to exert more pressure in the second half on tiring opponents finally bore fruit, offering the team a way out from a difficult situation.

Summing up the contrasting nature of the two halves, Henrique said: “In the first half we were not playing that bad. However, we knew that they (Al Hilal) did not have the physical strength to play with the same intensity for 90 minutes and we were able to create more opportunities in the second session, playing as a team.”

With a chance now to collect the world title, manager Jesus called the final to be the “most important match of his career”. “I am always impressed with European football. I know Liverpool is favourite, but it has to win the next match. We have reached the final and it will be one of the most important matches of my professional career. Winning this trophy will be a great honour,” he said.

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