Al Hilal manager Ramon Diaz said Flamengo were not prepared for his team’s quality after the Saudi Arabians became the first from the kingdom to reach the Fifa Club World Cup final.
The Asian champions upset their South American counterparts 3-2 in the semi-final in Tangier, Morocco on Tuesday night, thanks to two penalties from Salem Al Dawsari and a goal from Luciano Vietto.
Hilal, whose previous best finish at the tournament is third (2019, 2021), will face in Saturday’s showpiece either Real Madrid or Al Ahly, who play on Wednesday night in Rabat.
"Flamengo were surprised by our quality and by how prepared we were, mentally and strategically," Diaz told reporters after Hilal's historic victory. "Flamengo didn't expect that we would change our formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1-1, with Luciano Vietto as an attacking midfielder.
"Vietto ghosted behind their holding midfielders, who we identified were not good on challenges. And he was brilliant, earning both penalties and scoring a great goal for us."
Al Dawsari, the hero for Saudi Arabia in their famous win against Argentina at the recent World Cup, put Hilal in front at the Ibn Batouta Stadium from the spot on three minutes, after right-back Matheuzinho tripped Vietto inside the Flamengo penalty area.
Pedro then levelled for the Brazilians midway through the first half, before midfielder Gerson trod on Vietto inside the area in injury-time to allow Al Dawsari to slot home his second spot-kick of the game. Gerson was given a second yellow card, reducing Vitor Pereira’s side to 10 men.
Vietto increased Hilal’s lead in the 70th minute with a fine, close-range finish – Al Dawsari provided the assist – while Pedro struck in injury-time, although Flamengo could not find another.
“We have been going through difficult circumstances, including injuries and a congested schedule,” said Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf. “But with the grace of God, the efforts of the club administration and the incredible support of our fans, who showed up in big numbers today and backed us, we made it to the final.”
Meanwhile, a dismayed Pereira railed at the match officials, saying: "We were ready to play Al Hilal, but were not ready for a referee that was not up to the standards of the competition.
"There was a very big lack of criteria – it was provocative refereeing, and if it weren't for the personality of our players, I'm convinced that we would end the game with more red cards.
"Al Hilal's only goal attempts in the first half were the penalties. Therefore, if the match ended 11 against 11, we were the better side. We took the actions but were unable to translate it into goals. In the second half, with one less, it wasn't apathy, it's difficult to play down one man."
Flamengo, Club World Cup runners-up in 2019, will now take on the beaten side from the other semi-final in a match for third place, also on Saturday.