Super Cups are Spanish Affairs

Today, at A. Le Coq Arena, in Tallin, Estonia, Real Madrid  Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. On Sunday, at the Stade Ibn Battoutta, in Tangier, Morocco, Barcelona defeated Sevilla 2-1 to win the Spanish Super Cup.

Spanish Super Cup

The Spanish Super Cup, contested between the prior season’s La Liga and Copa del Rey winners (but as Barca won both, by rule the runner up of the Copa becomes the opponent), traditionally opens the new Spanish Football season and it is usually a two-legged affair. But this year, aside from breaking tradition by playing the match in a different continent, the Spanish Royal Football Federation decided the cup would be a single game final. Fortunately for organizers and fans alike the game had everything a game could fit into 90+ minutes of play.

The opening goal came at the 9th minute when a pretty flowing play saw Sevilla’s Luis Muriel cut into the box and then feed the trailing Pablo Sarabria for what culminated with the ball rolling up the net. But fittingly, in the first year of VAR in Spanish Football, the goal was originally disallowed for off sides but was then correctly awarded after review. New Sevilla coach, Pablo Mancin, who had arrived after leading Girona to their historic debut season in La Liga, calmed down moments after the ref pointed to the center circle.

The lead lasted until the 42nd minute when a Lionel Messi free kick ricocheted off Sevilla keeper Thomas Vaclik’s left post, then off his back, and then clear across to the right post, past all of Sevilla’s defense, to where the onrushing and unmarked Gerard Pique slid in for the equalizer.

At the 78th minute, Ousmane Dembele, seldom used to full potential by France in their World Cup winning campaign, showed why he was so handsomely compensated by Barca when he was brought over from Borussia Dortmund, and scored a scorcher off the crossbar for what would stand as the winning goal.

The remaining drama was an 87th minute penalty in favor of Sevilla. But Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved an awfully taken penalty by Wissam Ben Yedder to ensure no extra time was needed to decide who won the trophy. Barca fans had one more piece of silverware to crow about ahead of a new season.

For non-Barca lovers this match was a very bad omen, though, for last year’s champions went nearly undefeated all season long but with competition from a few teams, and this year they have a weaker archrival to contend with given Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid. So, if luck will henceforth play as large a role in Barca’s matches few opponents will have a chance against them in 2018-19.

UEFA Super Cup

Outside Spain, in the UEFA Super Cup, Real Madrid played its first competitive match in the post Ronaldo era; the first in the Julen Lopetegui era. One minute into the match Diego Costa scored down the right side of the box from an impossible angle, the ball going in kissing the near post above Keylor Navas’ head as he knelt to cover the lower angle.

Twenty-six minutes later Gareth Bale ran down the right wing and crossed a perfect ball to a onrushing Karim Benzema at the far post who had the presence of mind to head the ball down and towards the opposite post fooling keeper Jan Oblak and leveling the score line.

The match was even handed despite Real’s 63%-37% possession advantage and their 6-3 shot advantage. The Merengues’ possession was not purposeful half the time and the Colchoneros always seemed to know what they were doing when in Real’s half. A glaring Marco Asensio miscue on a counter would have put his team ahead but the young player decided to only look for a shot with his better left foot and lost the opportunity.

The second half saw a questionable Juanfran hand ball called a penalty and Sergio Ramos put Ronaldo’s spot kick lessons to good use pulling his side ahead at the 63rd. But a Marcelo mistake allowed substitute Angel Correa to steal the ball and dribble close, into the right post, then feed Costa for the tying score at the 79th.

Both teams made substitutions Dani Ceballos for Casemiro and Luka Modric for Asensio on Real and Thomas Partey for Thomas Lemar in Atleti. But, with the score tied only Real seemed interested in concluding the match in regulation time. So the match lumbered on into extra time.

In extra time a mistake by Raphael Varane allowed Atleti to steal the ball at the top of the box and Partey crossed to Saul who volleyed in the best goal of the game for a 3-2 Colchonero lead at the 98th. Six minutes later another silly defensive mistake allowed Costa to steal the ball and two passes later Koke was the recipient of a simple pass against the grain that caught the defense flat footed and Navas moving to his left. Koke simply one-timed the ball to the lower right corner of Navas’ goal for the final 4-2 score line.

Up in the stands Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, grimaced with each goal his opponents scored and each announcer on the Univision telecast Papa watched took a turn slamming the head man’s decision to let Ronaldo go.  Atletico Madrid meanwhile finally broke the jinx of the Portuguese superstar’s shadow, beating their cross-town rivals for the first time in European play in five years.

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