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The trick that won Chelsea the Club World Cup – how Cezar Azpilicueta’s mind games fooled Palmeiras

Chelsea captain Cezar Azpilicueta’s mind games played a huge part in the Blues winning the Club World Cup as he fooled Palmeiras by pretending to step up to take a penalty in the dying stages in their 2-1 victory in the final.

The 32-year-old nabbed the ball and acted as a decoy by pretending as if he was the penalty taker to draw the attention away from eventual goalscorer Kai Havertz by making himself the target of Palmeiras disruption tactics.

The plan worked perfectly as the German forward dispatched the spot kick in the 117th minute to seal the victory.

Chelsea captain Cezar Azpilicueta played mind games with Palmeiras ahead of Kai Havertz penalty

The 32-year-old played a decoy role as he pretended that he was going to take the penalty

The 32-year-old played a decoy role as he pretended that he was going to take the penalty

German forward Havertz was able to solely focus on his penalty as Palmeiras distracted his team-mate Azpilicueta instead

German forward Havertz was able to solely focus on his penalty as Palmeiras distracted his team-mate Azpilicueta instead

In the build up to the penalty, the ball fell for Azpilicueta and his shot on the volley fairly cannoned off the hand of Luan, which was somewhat carelessly hanging mid air.

Play went on as Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger swarmed around referee Chris Heath.

When the ball finally went out of play, Heath was called to the VAR monitor and a penalty was awarded.

Havertz stepped up and despite a concerted intimidation campaign by the Palmeiras, with Rudiger acting as chief protector, he kept his cool and shot home in the 117th minute.

The unfortunate Luan’s evening would then come to an end with virtually the final kick of the game, when he was sent off for a professional foul on Havertz.

VAR awarded the Blues a penalty after Azpilicueta (centre) cannoned a shot of Luan's hand

VAR awarded the Blues a penalty after Azpilicueta (centre) cannoned a shot of Luan’s hand

German forward Havertz slotted the penalty home in the 117th minute to seal the victory

German forward Havertz slotted the penalty home in the 117th minute to seal the victory

The skipper said: ‘I expected the Palmeiras players to come around the penalty taker.

‘I already told Kai he was going to shoot.

‘I just tried to release the pressure from him, be more calm.

‘With three minutes to go, it’s an important moment. It worked!’

Captain Azipilicueta's distraction plans worked as they lifted the Club World Cup trophy

Captain Azipilicueta’s distraction plans worked as they lifted the Club World Cup trophy

Professor in sport psychology at the Norwegian School of Sport Analyses, Geir Jordet, explained on Twitter why Chelsea’s penalty trick against Palmeiras was brilliant.

‘A penalty kick is a team performance! For Chelsea’s decisive penalty last night, Azpilicueta acted as decoy for Palmeira’s mind games, while the real penalty taker, Havertz, quietly prepared his kick in the periphery,’ Jordet said.

‘Then a last-second switch. How did they do it? And why? When the penalty is secured, after VAR, Azpilicueta seeks eye contact with Havertz.

‘Then he grabs the ball, as if HE is the penalty taker, while remaining in eye contact with Havertz.

Professor Geir Jordet explained the brilliance of the tactic as Havertz (pictured) was ignored prior to his spot kick

Professor Geir Jordet explained the brilliance of the tactic as Havertz (pictured) was ignored prior to his spot kick

Havertz calmly waited in the background until Palmeiras players backed away from the spot

Havertz calmly waited in the background until Palmeiras players backed away from the spot

‘Azpilicueta draws plenty of attention from the Palmeiras players, while Havertz is ignored.

‘Azplilicueta takes up an early position at the penalty mark, making himself a seemingly stationary and simple target for the Palmeiras players’ disruption tactics.

‘They even get a yellow card in the process of trying to disturb him.

‘The revelation. When the referee finally has established control, the Palmeiras players have cooled off and backed away, the time is right.

‘Havertz has been calmly waiting in the back, focusing on his shot, and the ball is now handed over. The switch is successfully made.

‘Havertz can now place the ball on the penalty mark without disruptions, continue his focused mental preparation, and ultimately score the penalty kick that Chelsea wins the FIFA Club World Cup.

‘Why did Chelsea do all this? In 2021-2022, many teams take extreme measures to disturb the penalty taker.

‘The referees do what they can to prevent it, but they’re typically outnumbered by the defending team who gets to do and say whatever they want to the penalty taker.

‘Palmeiras has shown earlier this season that they can form an intimidating and effective crowd around the ball and the referee, after important penalties and free kicks are given against them. Chelsea obviously did their home work.

‘Chelsea knows this crowding strategy intimately. When penalties are awarded against Chelsea this season, they also swarm around the penalty taker, attempting to get into his head.

‘Here against Salah/Liverpool. Of course they’re prepared for others using it against them.

‘A counter-measure in these situations is for the penalty taker to wait outside the area & arrive late at the penalty mark – a strategy Salah now employs.

‘Chelsea took it to the next level, by appointing their captain as a decoy penalty taker. Clever. effective. Beautiful.’

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