Kepa Arrizabalaga was pleased to play his part in our FIFA Club World Cup semi-final win over Al Hilal and says the quality of our opposition in the United Arab Emirates came as no surprise for the Blues.
We triumphed 1-0 in our first match in Abu Dhabi against the Saudi Arabian side, booking our place in Saturday’s final against Brazilians Palmeiras for a chance to lift this trophy for the first time in Chelsea history.
However, we were made to work hard for that win as, after a dominant performance from the Blues for an hour, Al Hilal pushed back in the second half in pursuit of an equaliser, leaving our goalkeeper pleased with the way we came through our first challenge in the Club World Cup.
‘We’re very happy,’ said Kepa. ‘This was our target, to be in the final on Saturday. We faced a very tough opponent, we knew we would. We did it, but the game was very hard.’
The Spaniard was required to make a couple of crucial saves during that difficult period in the second half, first rushing out to block Moussa Marega at close range and then diving at full stretch to claw away a powerful Mohamed Kanno drive.
Kepa was pleased to have helped the team progress with his contribution at such a decisive part of the game, as we weathered the best our opponents could throw at us in front of a partisan crowd providing majority support for Al Hilal, and emerged unscathed to keep our chance of winning another trophy alive.
He also explained it was a situation the Blues had expected given the Saudis’ status as Asian Champions League holders and their impressive 6-1 victory over Al Jazira in the previous round of the Club World Cup, even if it was a deserved win for Chelsea.
‘I think we controlled the game, a big part of the game. We created a lot of chances, but they are a team of champions also, so obviously they would create chances as well.
‘I was happy to help the team, happy to be there in an important moment and we are happy that we are going to the final.’
That 1-0 victory was also achieved despite the handicap of head coach Thomas Tuchel being absent. The German was not able to attend the win over Al Hilal, or the weekend’s FA Cup victory at Stamford Bridge, after testing positive for Covid.
However, he has been in constant contact during that period and Kepa feels the quality of our coaching staff and the players’ familiarity with the methods used by Tuchel, as well as the demands he places on the team, means they have been able to cope relatively well, even if it is not an ideal situation.
‘Of course we miss him,’ added Kepa. ‘Hopefully he can be here for the final but we have a fantastic staff also. They are working hard with us every day.
‘We know already from the last year how we work with the manager, how he wants us to prepare for games. So of course we miss the manager, but we know what we have to do.’
Those preparations continue in Abu Dhabi as Chelsea’s attention now turns to Saturday’s final, when we will face another tough opponent Palmeiras, aiming to win the Blues’ first-ever FIFA Club World Cup title.