Chelsea are through to the final of the FIFA Club World Cup after Romelu Lukaku's goal gave us a 1-0 win over Al Hilal in Abu Dhabi.

The Blues had only ever reached the final of this competition once before, 10 years ago, but we will have a second chance to get our hands on the trophy this Saturday, thanks largely to a dominant first-half display at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.

We had the better of the possession and the chances during the first half, with Mateo Kovacic and Romelu Lukaku combining to cause our Saudi Arabian opponents plenty of problems. The opening goal had seemed to be coming for some time when Kovacic surged forward on the ball and released Kai Havertz. When the German got a second bite at his cross, it ricocheted off an Al Hilal defender and fell invitingly for Lukaku at close range. It wasn't the kind of chance our striker was about to pass up, smashing the ball into the back of the net.

We nearly extended our lead just after the break, when Havertz lifted a cheeky finish over the goalkeeper, only to see it come back off the post, but Kepa Arrizabalaga also needed to show his talents in the United Arab Emirates with two excellent saves to maintain our lead, as Al Hilal fought back, buoyed by strong support inside the stadium, until some fresh legs from the Chelsea bench helped us recover our balance and see out the game relatively comfortably in the closing stages.

The selection

With Edouard Mendy only linking up with the squad in the United Arab Emirates this morning following his heroics at the Africa Cup of Nations, Kepa Arrizabalaga continued as goalkeeper. Andreas Christensen made his 150th appearance for the Blues in a return to a back three, alongside Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva, the latter returning to the side after his late return from international duty with Brazil.

Ahead of them, Marcos Alonso came in on the left flank, while fellow Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta captained the side from the right and Jorginho continued to partner Mateo Kovacic in midfield. Hakim Ziyech, Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz made up the front three, with Mason Mount among the Chelsea substitutes after being forced off with an injury during the weekend's FA Cup win over Plymouth.

Thomas Tuchel was still absent from the sideline after testing positive for Covid, leaving first-team coaches Arno Michels and Zsolt Low to take the hands-on role, although our head coach remains heavily involved, if not in person.

Club World Cup campaign begins

It was actually Al Hilal who had the game’s first shot, after winning possession in midfield and attempting an ambitious effort which slowly dribbled well wide without worrying Kepa, despite drawing huge cheers from the large number of Saudi fans who had made the trip to Abu Dhabi.

In fact, although this was officially a neutral ground, it was soon clear that Chelsea were an away team in all but name, so heavily were the Blues fans who had made the 3,500-mile trip outnumbered by the megaphone-wielding Saudis, who booed throughout any prolonged spell of Chelsea possession.

In a stop-start opening interrupted by fouls from both teams, Thiago Silva reciprocated with a low drive from a long way out, which had the power but not the accuracy. Ziyech then went close after brilliant work from Christensen to win the ball and step up into midfield to make space, before finding Azpilicueta on the right. The Spaniard teed up Ziyech on the edge of the box, but his drive flew over the bar.

We were starting to apply pressure, though, as it took a last ditch intervention by an Al Hilal defender to prevent Lukaku getting in on goal, before Jorginho and Alonso both had shots blocked in the box.

The first save came almost exactly on 15 minutes, as Lukaku got in behind the Al Hilal defence, but goalkeeper Abdullah Almuaiouf smothered his shot at close range and the Belgian was then flagged offside. Lukaku then had more opportunities, when Azpilicueta sent the ball low across goal, but the striker couldn’t make the contact he needed, and then fired straight at the keeper under heavy pressure when Kovacic tried to thread him through.

Deserved lead

That increasing pressure meant it was no real surprise when Chelsea broke the deadlock just after half-an-hour, and again it was a move involving good work by Kovacic which ended with Lukaku, a combination that had been threatening a goal for some time. This time Kovacic charged most of the length of the field with the ball, despite a lot of pressure, before sliding a pass ahead of Havertz on the left.

There was also an element of good fortune about the goal, though, as Havertz’s first attempted cross was blocked and landed back at his feet for another go, and the second ricocheted back off an Al Hilal defender into Lukaku’s path inside the six-yard box, allowing our No9 a simple finish with his right foot from point-blank range.

Having previously been happy to play on the break, Al Hilal now had to try and go at Chelsea a bit more, but when they did get a sight of goal Salem Aldawsari blazed well over the bar from outside the box.

Kovacic was continuing to have a huge influence on the game from midfield and found Lukaku with a chipped ball into the box, but the offside flag went up again when he shielded the ball and played it to Ziyech at the far post, before the Al Hilal defence did well to clear when the Belgian headed a deep Alonso cross down into the danger zone, where Havertz was waiting to pounce.

However, there was to be no second Chelsea goal before half-time, meaning we went in at the break with a narrow advantage and an element of control over the game, but know we had to be wary of Al Hilal’s threat on the counter-attack.

More of the same

There was a change of personnel from the Blues at half-time, as N’Golo Kante replaced Jorginho in midfield, but the pattern of play continued in much the same way as it had in the first period, with Chelsea probing patiently and Al Hilal attempting to get the ball to their forward players in the channels quickly.

It wasn’t long before our patient approach nearly resulted in the next goal, either, as Havertz showed a great piece of skill and turn of pace to break away from his marker on the ball and tried to lift a shot over the goalkeeper from a tight angle, but saw his effort come back off the post.

Although the game was becoming more evenly balance, it was still Chelsea who were looking the more likely to get the next goal and it nearly arrived at the end of a lovely team move of slick passing which ended in Lukaku heading Kante’s cross down into the path of Ziyech, but the goalkeeper was able to claw the winger’s first-time shot away from the top corner.

Under pressure

With half-an-hour left Al Hilal showed just how dangerous they can be in the final third, as Matheus Pereira poked a pass through for Moussa Marega to turn in the box, but Kepa was quick off his line and made himself big to block the shot.

The Saudis’ threat was increasing as the game went on and they became more desperate for an equaliser, meaning soon Kepa was pressed into action again, showing brilliant reflexes and agility to turn Mohamed Kanno’s powerful drive around the post one-handed at full stretch, before Pereira curled just wide of the left-hand post from the edge of the box.

We did manage to steady the ship a little for the closing stages, meaning Kepa wasn't required to keep our lead intact on any further occasions. In fact, despite Al Hilal throwing on some attacking substitutions, it was another Blues replacement Mason Mount who went closest to scoring late on when he was found by another Lukaku lay-off in the box, only to see his shot blocked.

Chelsea will feel they could and probably should have won by a bigger margin, but won't be too concerned about that after booking our place in the Club World Cup final for only the second time in our history.

What's next?

We will be back in the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium at the same time (4.30pm in the UK) on Saturday to face Brazilian side Palmeiras in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup, before returning to London.

Chelsea (3-4-3): Kepa; Christensen, Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta (c), Jorginho (Kante h-t), Kovacic, Alonso (Sarr 87); Ziyech (Mount 72), Lukaku, HavertzUnused subs: Bettinelli, Mendy, Chalobah, Saul, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Kenedy, Pulisic, WernerScorer: Lukaku 32Booked: Kovacic 81

Al Hilal (4-2-3-1): Almuaiouf; Alburayk, Jang, Al Bulayhi, Alshahrani; Kanno, Cuellar; Marega, Pereira (Carrillo 82), Aldawsari (Michael 82); IghaloUnused subs: Alowais, Aljadani, Alshehri, Alobaid, Almufarrij, Aljuwayr, Abdulhamid, Jahfali, Tuhayfan, AlfarajBooked: Cuellar 66, Al Bulayhi 84

Referee: Cesar Ramos (Mexico)

Attendance: 19,175