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Valverde’s extra-time strike sends Real Madrid into Spanish Super Cup final


By the time this was over, it was way after midnight in Riyadh, they were barely able to walk any more let alone run, and they were 6,500km from home but Real Madrid had made it. The last ball had been caught by Thibaut Courtois and he lay on the turf, clutching their place in the final of the Spanish Super Cup, Fede Valverde’s extra-time goal having settled a match that ultimately had the winner everyone expected but did not play out as anticipated. A fun night could have gone either way, from 1-0 to 1-1, 2-1 to 2-2 and ultimately 3-2.

It went Madrid’s, the fifth goal of the night scored at the point when Barcelona seemed to have taken a hold. And although they were defeated by Valverde’s long run from his area to theirs, they had come close. Above all, they had come to look like a team again, especially once Pedri and Ansu Fati had been introduced. This looked like a proper clásico too – on the pitch at least. It had finished the way it started, Barcelona caught and Madrid taking advantage.

Twenty-four of the 122 minutes had gone when Karim Benzema sneaked up on Sergio Busquets and nicked the ball off his toe. By the time the Barcelona captain realised what was happening, they were gone. Luka Modric immediately returned the ball to Benzema who released Vinícius, sprinting into the area to thump high into the net.

Vinícius had taken just two touches; the entire move took just four of them, and that was a feature of Madrid’s game. The goal had been coming and had always been likely to come a little like that. The space they were afforded was an invitation they were not going to turn down, running through almost at will, a move that started in their own area a moment earlier having ended with Marco Asensio bending over, already offering a portrait of what was to come.

Yet if here was a feeling of inevitability about it, Madrid’s superiority presupposed, Barcelona responded well – even if that sense of vulnerability never went away, the feeling that Madrid could reach their area in the blink of an eye and with minimal resistance.

Ansu Fati celebrates after his equaliser
Ansu Fati celebrates after his equaliser. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Luuk de Jong was at the heart of it, and if that may feel counter-cultural for a coach like Xavi, it was effective – beyond just the fact that he got the equaliser just before half-time. If the finish was fortunate, a deflection off Éder Militão’s attempted clearance, he had already twice seen headers saved. Barcelona had found a foothold that was soon a big step forward when the break brought the return of Pedri from injury, he and Abde coming on for the debutant Ferran Torres and Frenkie de Jong.

Not coincidentally, it also brought a change. In three minutes, Ousmane Dembélé, Pedri and De Jong all had chances, one after the other. Five minutes after that, Dembélé struck a volley wide when the position demanded a better finish. And yet it was Madrid who took the lead again. A lovely touch from Modric led to an even lovelier touch from Benzema, dragging the ball back, turning and firing. The shot hit the post but he was back again the very next minute when Ferland Mendy escaped Dani Alves to start a move that ended with him turning in from close range.

This still wasn’t over, not by a long shot. Barcelona went for it, exposing themselves and Madrid too. With seven minutes to go, Fati leapt to head in Jordi Alba’s superb cross to make it 2-2, then Courtois had to move fast to stop Dembélé and Nacho made a superb block on Pedri to take it into extra time where Abde headed wide. Barcelona’s grip grew ever tighter until in the 99th minute Madrid broke through it, slipping between their fingers, up and running again, the field opening in front of them. Casemiro charged, Rodrygo played his part and Valverde arrived to finish.

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Courtois made a double save on 100 minutes, Abde flashed one past the post on 108 and both teams got a clear chance each in the very last minute, when cramp had gripped them all, Fati and Rodrygo unable to the take them. But it was Madrid who were still standing. Just.



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