My 3 Thoughts on the Club World Cup Final
Pulisic Becomes a World Champion as Chelsea Beats Palmeiras in Extra-Time
England’s Chelsea won the FIFA Club World Cup on Saturday, beating Brazil’s Palmeiras 2-1 in extra-time on a penalty by Kai Havertz. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• Christian Pulisic is a world champion. The Hershey, Pa., native became the second USMNT player to win a world championship (after Jovan Kirovski), and he played a significant role in the game, too. Pulisic came on in the 32nd minute after Mason Mount went off injured, and he started in the No. 10 position, where he drew several fouls, took free kicks and corners (until Hakim Ziyech came on) and got off two half-decent shots. Pulisic moved wide left after Timo Werner came on for the first goal-scorer, Romelu Lukaku, but then Pulisic moved centrally again when Werner took the wide-left spot. While Pulisic didn’t create any truly memorable highlights in the game, he’ll certainly take the highlight of contributing to Chelsea’s victory and raising a world championship trophy.
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• Chelsea had the better of the play overall. There was some history at work today: No European team had lost in the Club World Cup final since Chelsea in 2012 (to Brazil’s Corinthians), and no South American side had scored against European opposition in the Club World Cup since that same game 10 years ago. Palmeiras at least scored a goal, but the two-time defending Copa Libertadores champions will still be disappointed not to make more of their opportunity. The Blues went ahead deservedly early in the second half when Lukaku redirected Callum Hudson-Odoi’s cross into the net, only for Palmeiras’s Raphael Veiga to equalize on a (somewhat soft) penalty after VAR adjudged Thiago Silva to have handled the ball in the box. Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel clearly wanted to win the game in extra-time instead of going to penalties, though, since he decided to use his final subs on Ziyech and Malang Sarr instead of bringing in top penalty-take Jorginho. The risk paid off. Chelsea dialed up the pressure in extra-time, which led to César Azpilicueta’s shot hitting the outstretched arm of Luan in the box. Kai Havertz converted the spot kick, giving him another final-winning goal after scoring the difference-maker in the UEFA Champions League final against Manchester City.
• The Club World Cup is a massively underexploited opportunity for FIFA and embarrassingly still doesn’t include a women’s event. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has some awful ideas he’s pushing like having the World Cup every two years, but one good idea of his is to make the Club World Cup a much bigger event that would resonate more around the world. Back in 2019, the FIFA Council even approved a 24-team Club World Cup that was set to take place in the summer of 2021 in China. Covid caused those plans to be scrapped, so we’ll see if FIFA finds a way to get it back on the calendar in the next couple years. What’s embarrassing, though, is that FIFA has yet to follow through on organizing the first women’s Club World Cup, which would probably be even better for the women’s game than a revamped CWC would be for the men’s game. The balance of power in women’s club soccer is more spread out around the world than in the men’s game, and to have a true world club championship involving teams from the NWSL and the top European women’s leagues—as well as reps from the growing women’s leagues on other continents—is long past overdue. Quit dragging your feet, FIFA.
What were your thoughts on the game? You can share them in the comments below.
I thought I was the only Chelsea supporter who cared about winning the Club World Cup, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how many supporters are genuinely happy about our victory. It could also serve as a nice mid-season boost after we've struggled over the last 3 months...
I love the idea of a March Madness-style competition for this event! And great point about the women, Grant. Also enjoyed your recent post about the scandals in the women's game and your call for change. Keep up the great work!