Doha, Qatar: AFC champions Al Hilal were enjoying the better of the exchanges, had more possession, created better chances but had nothing to show for their slight superiority in the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 quarterfinal against Esperance Sportive de Tunis at Al Sadd Stadium when Bafetimbi Gomis entered the pitch as a substitute on Saturday.
The match was already into its final 30 minutes when he replaced Gustavo Cuellar, but that was more than enough for the French powerhouse of a player to score a beautiful winner that takes Hilal into the semifinals of the tournament where they meet Brazilian giants Flamengo on Tuesday.
Hilal, who comprehensively defeated Japanese side Urawa Reds in the two-legged AFC Champions League final, missed a big chance to have an early grip on the game as Carlos Eduardo sent his header from close range surprisingly wide, with the Hilal captain suggesting he was pushed from behind.
More opportunities came Hilal's way and had it not been for the athleticism of Esperance goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifa, the Saudi side would have had taken the lead in the first half itself.
Ben Cherifa, who is also the Tunisian side's skipper, produced a stunning save to deny Eduardo after the Brazilian-born forward was put through by Salem Al Dawsari at the end of a flowing move through the middle.
Hilal's Syrian striker Omar Khrbin also missed a big chance when his goal-bound shot from inside the box hit a defender while Ben Cherifa made another terrific stop to deny Andre Carillo in the 45th minute.
Hilal continued to be the better side as Mohammed Kano sent his shot over the bar early in the second half after he was found by Carillo, who had a fine game.
Meanwhile, Esperance too were creating opportunities.
Anice Badri, their biggest threat, spurned a great chance when he failed to hit the target after Ibrahim Ouattara took advantage of Hilal goalkeeper Al Muaiouf's heavy touch off a back pass and snatched the ball from him.
Badri then drew a difficult save from Al Muaiouf after a shot from outside the box took a slight deflection.
Hilal also were in back foot when early in the second half Yasser Sharani's attempt to intercept a cross from the left resulted in the ball looping into the goal, with Al Muaiouf having to backtrack and pushed it away for a corner.
But when Gomis entered the field, Hilal looked remarkably better.
The French striker immediately displayed his strength and ability to hold on to the ball as warded off a couple of Esperance defenders, and even though he eventually lost possession on that occasion, he did not wait for long before delivering a telling blow.
The former Lyon and Galatasaray player beautifully anticipated the bounce of the ball following a Carrillo pass into his path and although Mohamed Yakoubi came sliding in, Gomis deftly took it over him and calmly buried in the far bottom corner of Ben Cherifa's goal in the 73rd minute.
Hilal had a chance to increase the lead but Khrbin could not direct Eduardo's cross goalwards.
They had a big scare when Kano was sent off after two yellow cards in quick succession, but they held on.
And when Badri's shot after a layoff from Ouattara sailed wide of the target, Esperance's last chance was gone.