Everton strike gives Gremio passage to Fifa Club World Cup final
Perseverance pays off Brazilian side in battle between two American teams who had to make long journey to Al Ain
The first half of what so many would regard as the dream final is settled, after Everton struck a brilliant extra time winner to send Gremio of Brazil through to Saturday’s Fifa Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi.
Now Al Jazira just need to do the business against Real Madrid at Zayed Sports City on Wednesday night, and this competition will have the final it deserves.
Whoever does make it through to the final – and, let us be honest, the second semi-final is not a sell-out because of the presence of the team from Abu Dhabi – they will find a worthy Gremio side waiting for them.
Valiant CF Pachuca of Mexico took some beating. For the second time in four days the team from the Mexican league, who had travelled from the half the world away to get here, played 120 minutes.
And they ended with 10-men, too, after Victor Guzman, who scored the goal that put them through to this semifinal, was sent off in the second half of extra time.
It took some left-wing dexterity, plus a fine shot, by Everton to finally quell their challenge. Pachuca will still play once more in the UAE. They will face the losers of Madrid against Jazira in the third-place play-off, which acts as a curtain-raiser to the final on Saturday.
Given the vast distances the two sets of supporters had made to get to the UAE for this competition, they might have expected to be rewarded with a little more in the way of attacking brio.
It is around 13,000 kilometres to get from Porto Alegre to Al Ain, and Gremio’s supporters only had 10 days to make their travel plans. They were the last side to qualify for the Club World Cup, as winners of South America’s Copa Libertadores.
Yet they have arrived in droves, making up the majority of the 6,428 crowd. With 15 minutes left in the first match of the double-header at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, a huge roar erupted, preceding chants of: “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Gremio.”
Their side were still the best part of 90 minutes from taking the field, while Urawa Red Diamonds and Wydad Casablanca were playing out the final throes of the fifth-placed play-off.
Pachuca’s supporters might be fewer in number, but their journey has been even greater. It is 14,260km from Pachuca to Abu Dhabi. At least they had time to make an advance plan. As Concacaf champions, Pachuca had been the first team to book their place in the UAE, for their fourth excursion to a Club World Cup.
As gripping as it was, given the stakes they were playing for, this semi-final was light on flair. As has generally been the case for all but the fifth-place play-off, which ended 3-2 to Urawa, so far in this tournament, play was generally cagey, and the sides negated each other for large periods.
Gremio’s closest efforts mostly came from range. Edilson, the right-back, saw a 30-yard free-kick skim the top of the cross bar in the first half.
In the second, Oscar Perez, Pachuca’s squat goalkeeper who will be 45 in February, had to be at his best to paw a long-range strike from Luan that had been destined for the bottom corner.
Again Edilson went close with a free-kick, which hit the outside of Perez’s side netting.
Gremio seemed the more likely, but neither side was able to break the deadlock in the regulation time.
It did feel, though, that it was coming and, five minutes into extra time, Everton received a throw in down the left touchline, beat two defenders, and curled his shot past Perez.
The strike was met with euphoria by the Brazilian supporters for whom the journey might have been long, but it is only halfway done.
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Updated: December 12, 2017 11:57 PM