Romelu Lukaku scored only his ninth goal since rejoining Chelsea to help his club through to the Club World Cup final on Saturday.
The Blues would have to defeat Brazilian club Palmeiras and win the championship for the first time, they will have to perform far better than their labored semi-final victory in Abu Dhabi.
In the 32nd minute, Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku broke the stalemate with a goal.
What should have been a simple triumph over their limited Saudi opponents turned into a true grind.
And manager Thomas Tuchel, who was overseeing events from his home in England after testing positive for Covid 19, had goalie Kepa Arrizabalaga to thank for save Lukaku’s first-half shot.
Tuchel hopes to go to the UAE on Friday, if he passes his tests, and understands his players will have to be much more focused.
Lukaku who arrived in Chelsea during the summer for £97.5 million from Inter Milan, is still struggling to appear as sharp as he did in Serie A last season.
And, having just scored once in 2022, against Chesterfield in the FA Cup, he appeared lethargic once more.
Lukaku had a couple chances before scoring in the 32nd minute, and it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Al Hilal’s left-back,Yasser Al-Shahrani, completely mishandled Kai Havertz’s cross, and the ball landed right at the feet of the Belgian striker, who smashed the ball into the net.
Apart from roughly 1,000 Chelsea fans, the remainder of the 19,175-strong throng supported the Saudis.
Chelsea had opportunities before the goal through Thiago Silva and Hakim Ziyech.
After a charging run down the left at the opening of the second half, Havertz hit the post.
Ziyech forced a spectacular stop from goalie Abdullah Al-Mayouf in the game’s greatest play.
After about an hour, Chelsea went completely off the boil, allowing the Saudis to seize charge.
Odion Ighalo, a former Watford and Manchester United striker, spent the whole of the game flinging himself to the ground in an attempt to get free kicks and penalties, with little success.
However, ex-Porto attacker Moussa Marega pushed Kepa into a good one-handed stop.
And the Spaniard came up with an even greater save, jumping to his left to deflect a good attempt from Mohamed Kanno.
Chelsea held on just nearly, and they couldn’t blame it on the desert heat, since it was approximately 16 degrees Celsius in the evening here.
Eduoard Mendy, the Blues’ customary first-choice goalkeeper, had arrived earlier in the day after flying in fresh from celebrating Senegal’s AFCON victory over Egypt.
Tuchel now has a decision to make on Mendy, who was on the bench. He’ll almost certainly bring back his No. 1 for the final.
Tuchel’s concerns for Saturday’s match against a solid Palmeiras team will be everywhere other than the goalkeeper.