Bayern Munich avoided an upset against African Champions League winners Al Ahly to win 2-0 in their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final in Doha, Qatar.
The 2013 winners, who are competing in the tournament for the second time in their history, had their preparation affected by flight delays causing them to spend Friday night sleeping on the plane and depart for Qatar nine hours later than intended the following morning.
However, they showed few signs of fatigue and asserted their dominance from the get-go, which culminated in Robert Lewandowski’s 17th-minute close-range strike giving the German treble winners a 1-0 lead.
The defensive organisation and hard work of Al Ahly prevented them from making another breakthrough for most of the game, although Lewandowski’s one-on-one miss 20 minutes after his goal and Thomas Muller’s header from a corner two-thirds of the way through came close to doing so.
The Polish marksman - voted FIFA’s best male player of 2020 - made it 29 goals in 27 club games this season with an 85th-minute far-post header to convert substitute Leroy Sane’s phenomenal cross from near the byline.
Egyptian champions Al Ahly had their best chance of the game shortly after Bayern's opening goal when Taher Mohamed's diving header went straight into Manuel Neuer's hands.
Their goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy valiantly kept them in the game but they were ultimately out of their depth and their understandable reluctance to commit players forward hindered their ability to create chances.
They will go up against Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras this Thursday in the third place playoff, while Bayern will face CONCACAF Champions League victors Tigres in the final later that evening.
Hussein El Shahat of Al Ahly SC battles for possession with Thomas Mueller of FC Bayern Muenchen during the Semi-Final match between Al Ahly SC and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on February 08, 2021 in Doha
Image credit: Getty Images
TALKING POINT - SHOULD THE CLUB WORLD CUP EVEN BE GOING AHEAD?
After last summer's European Championship was pushed back a year, many rightfully criticised the decision to go ahead with the UEFA Nations League later on last year, particularly given the competition's supposed irrelevance in the eyes of the typical football fan.
Many countries across the world have been going back into lockdown with Covid-19's prevalence on the rise once more, along with the arrival of multiple more virulent variants of it, with even certain UEFA Champions League games doubtful due to travel bans, forcing Liverpool v RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach v Man City to have one leg in Hungary.
Throw into the equation the fixture congestion so many clubs are experiencing that has caused a plethora of injury problems amongst positive Covid tests, as well as the indifference of most football fans towards it that draws similarities with some opinions of the Nations League.
It therefore really makes you wonder why the competition is even going ahead and although the now-postponed 24-team Club World Cup has drawn even more criticism for making the summer football schedule even busier once every four years, that would perhaps give the Club World Cup more relevance and make it worth all the hassle instead of it simply being a FIFA vanity project in the Middle East or East Asia every year.
MAN OF THE MATCH - ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (BAYERN MUNICH)
It was a slightly underwhelming evening for those who thought Bayern Munich would have been gunning for a cricket score against Al Ahly, but it is far from harsh to suggest that they could have been more clinical in front of goal considering that they had 68% of possession and 24 shots.
The undeniable brilliance of Lewandowski wiped away any fears of embarrassment with his two goals tonight and yet again showed why he is widely considered to be one of the best strikers of all time and at 32 years old he seems to be getting even better. The short turnaround between matches, their flight problems and the sharp increase in temperature from the German winter made it a much more difficult tie than it may have seemed on the surface, but his performance proved to be the difference against an Al Ahly side who were hard to break down.
Al Ahly: El Shenawy 7, Hany 5, Maaloul 6, Banoun 5, Ayman 6, Hamdy 6, El Soulia 5, El Shahaat 5, Taher 6, Afsha 5, Kahraba 5. Subs: Ibrahim 6, Bwalya 6, Mohsen 5, Dieng 5, Sherif N/A
17' - GOAL! Al Ahly 0-1 Bayern (Lewandowski): Bayern make their dominance count with a composed finish from Lewandowski! That's the 28th goal of the season for the man voted FIFA's best player of 2020. Coman's low cross was pulled back by Gnabry and put on a plate for Lewandowski to open the scoring.
21' - SAVED!! Hany flies down the right wing before sending a cross into the area. Taher is involved again, as he makes contact with a diving header. But it goes straight into the hands of Neuer.
24' - CLOSE!! Cheeky from Gnabry, who gives the defenders 'the eyes' to imply he's shooting before slipping a pass through to Roca. The spanish midfielder drags a left-footed shot past the wrong side of the post though.
26' - SAVED!! Roca goes close again! This time there's a bit of pinball in the Al Ahly box before the midfielder hits a close-range volley into El Shenawy's hands.
37' - CLOSE!! How did Lewandowski miss that?! Great work from Kimmich again to trickle his way through the Al Ahly defence before finding Lewa in acres of space inside the box. El Shenawy did well to rush out and put him off though, causing the Polish striker to lift the ball over the bar.
86' - GOAL! Al Ahly 0-1 Bayern (Lewandowski): Bayern finally seal the win! Phenomenal cross from Sane near the byline to give Lewandowski practically an open net to head into and make it 2 goals to nil.