Romelu Lukaku's much-needed goal proved the winner as Chelsea held on nervously to claim their place in the Club World Cup final with a 1-0 win over Al Hilal at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi.
The Blues - hoping to go one better in this competition after losing the 2012 final to Corinthians on penalties - were utterly dominant in the first half, creating multiple opportunities, but had to absorb huge pressure from the Asian champions after the restart.
Hakim Ziyech went close with a shot from the edge of the box, while the unmarked Lukaku failed to make a connection from Azpilcueta's cross.
However, the Belgium international finally broke the deadlock in the 32nd-minute, capitalising on a defensive error to slot home from a few yards out, to send the small contingent of Blues supporters wild.
Kai Havertz slalomed down the left flank before clipping the post with a deft finish, as Chelsea continued to press for goals in the early stages of the second half.
However, having been a bystander for large parts of the game, Kepa Arrizabalega was called upon to make an important save when Moussa Marega was played through on goal, as Al Hilal's belief grew with Chelsea unable to kill the contest off.
Kepa then pulled off a stunning one-handed save to push Mohamed Kanno's curling effort round the post.
Chelsea wrestled back control of the game in the latter stages to keep a clean sheet and set up a final with Palmeiras on Saturday.
Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea (2L) celebrates with teammates Kai Havertz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso and Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea after scoring their team's first goal during the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021 Semi Final match between Al Hilal and Chelsea
Image credit: Getty Images
TALKING POINT - Lukaku back on the scoresheet, but plenty for Tuchel to consider
After a difficult period, Lukaku showed glimpses of a return to form and grabbed the goal that should boost his morale. In the first half, Al Hilal allowed him the space he has been starved of in England recently, but he was guilty of squandering a gilt-edged opportunity, failing to make a connection from Azpilicueta's cross. However, he grew in confidence after breaking the deadlock, even if it was a simple finish. You cannot help but think there were more goals for the 28-year-old in the second period, but the service just wasn't there.
Indeed, Thomas Tuchel - who missed the game after testing positive for Covid-19 - will not be impressed with how Chelsea played after the restart. They lost momentum and looked fatigued as they allowed Al Hilal back into the game. Had they been more clinical, the Saudi Arabian side could have caused an almighty upset.
The Blues will now have three days to rest and recover, knowing they will have to perform for the entire 90 minutes if they're to beat the Brazilian giants and atone for the bitter disappointment they suffered in this competition back in 2012 when they lost to Corinthians in a penalty shootout.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea)
Kepa has been in fine form of late and kept his place in the Chelsea goal despite the availability of Edouard Mendy, who was on the bench after his Africa Cup of Nations adventures. Now, Kepa didn't have all that much to do, but he made two important saves to maintain Chelsea's lead and the second one was world-class.
18' - LUKAKU SHOULD DO BETTER! A fully confident Lukaku would stick this in the back of the net! He's unmarked at the near post as Azpilicueta delivers a low cross, but he fails to make the connection!
32' - GOAL! AL-HILAL 0-1 CHELSEA (ROMELU LUKAKU) Finally, Lukaku breaks the deadlock. This has been coming! The Belgium international scores his ninth of the season and first in over a month, but he won't have an easier finish. Ziyech's cross rebounded off a defender and fell kindly into his path and all he had to do was smash it home from point-blank range.
48' - OFF THE POST! Havertz races down the left, cuts inside and tries to beat Al-Hilal goalkeeper Al-Muaiouf with a deft flick. However, he's denied from the tightest of angles by the woodwork. That would have been a lovely goal.
63' - KEPA MAKES AN IMPORTANT SAVE! This game is far from finished, as Al Hilal have just reminded Chelsea. Marega is played through on goal... but Kepa makes himself big to save with his feet. The Blues could really do with a second goal to kill this tie off.
69' - MAGNIFICENT SAVE! Kepa with a world-class save to deny Al Hilal an equaliser! Kanno catches a hold of a curling effort that's heading for the top corner. But Kepa is at full-stretch and connects with a strong hand to push it round his post!