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Say what you want about the decision to move the Spanish Super Cup 3,000 miles southeast to Saudi Arabia and turn it into a four-team event, but Thursday’s match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid — which Atleti came back to win 3-2 after squandering an early second-half lead — sure was a lot of fun.
A change of format this season meant the competition was switched from its traditional preseason slot and shoehorned into La Liga’s brief winter break. It also added two extra teams and headed to the exotic locale of Jeddah, in what can only be described as transparent and cynical cash grab by the Royal Spanish Football Federation.
Still, both teams took took the match seriously, just as Real Madrid had in its 3-1 triumph over Valencia on Wednesday. And Barca, which qualified for the event as the defending La Liga champion, looked well on its way to a trip to Sunday’s final against Real after Lionel Messi and former Atletico front man Antoine Griezmann scored to overturn a 1-0 deficit before goals by Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa in the final 10 minutes flipped the script:
But that only tells part of the story. The contest was comically chippy throughout considering the stakes. For the quartet of squads involved, the Super Cup ranks well behind the Champions League, La Liga and the Copa del Rey in terms of priorities.
And and has become customary in the modern game, the video assistant referee played a decisive and controversial role in the outcome. Messi looked to have made the score 3-1 with his second strike of the evening following Griezmann’s go-ahead tally, but after a look at the monitor the center official determined that Messi had handled the ball before slotting home. Messi contended that it hit the tip of his shoulder. Based on the replays, it was nearly impossible to tell.
Another Barcelona goal was snuffed out a short while later, when Arturo Vidal was adjudged to be offside in the build-up to Gerard Pique’s tap-in. To be fair, there was little doubt about that one. Luck clearly wasn’t on Barca’s side, however, and sure enough Atletico took full advantage.
VAR confirmed the decision to award the 81st-minute penalty that Morata converted, and while another potential spot-kick for what could’ve been a Pique handball wasn’t given, the momentum was all Atletico’s. As hard as they tried to prevent the winner, Barca’s defenders weren’t quite able to prevent Correa’s winner from crossing the goal line just four minutes before full time.
Neutral observers will of course rue the fact that the two finalists wouldn’t even have participated in years past; Real and Alteti were invited while Barca and Copa del Rey holder Valencia technically earned their spots. The locals surely would’ve rather seen a desert version of El Clasico.
A Madrid derby ought to serve as a sufficient consolation prize, though, with both sides certain to show up ready to fight once again.
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