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January 13, 2020 at 4:23 AMLambert
Thibaut Courtois proved the hero on Sunday as Real Madrid beat city rivals Atletico Madrid in a penalty shoot-out in Saudi Arabia to win their 11th Spanish Super Cup.
Courtois and Jan Oblak were both imperious during a goalless final in Jeddah but the Belgian came up trumps, saving Thomas Partey’s penalty after Saul Niguez had already hit the post.
Sergio Ramos tucked away the winning spot-kick to ensure Real Madrid clinched their first trophy of the season, with La Liga and the Champions League next in their sights.
“I went through their takers on the bench,” said Courtois. “Saul’s surprised me but Thomas’ I read, and he’s got a very hard shot.”
Atletico might have won it in extra-time when Alvaro Morata went through one-on-one but Real’s Federico Valverde took a red card in exchange for cynically fouling the striker from behind.
“It was something you shouldn’t do and I apologised to Alvaro but it was the only option I had left,” said Valverde.
“It was the most important moment of the match,” added Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
“If he had gone through it was a goal but I told him that anyone would have done the same in his position.”
Victory maintains Zinedine Zidane’s spotless record as a coach in finals.
He has now led Madrid to success three times in the Champions League, and two each in the Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and now Spanish Super Cup.
“I have won many things as a player and now as a coach,” said Zidane. “But I congratulate the players. You can achieve anything if you work hard enough.”
– Venue controversy –
The focus before the tournament was more on the decision of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to move this year’s Super Cup — a four-team competition rather than a straight final — away from Spain and to Saudi Arabia, despite the country’s long-criticised treatment of women and record on human rights.
Before the final, RFEF president Luis Rubiales said he was “very happy” with how the format had panned out. “We have to improve things because it is a country that has just started organising these sorts of events,” he added.
For all the controversy off the pitch, on the pitch, the tournament has delivered.
Real Madrid played brilliantly to beat Valencia on Wednesday while a pulsating 3-2 win for Atletico on Thursday has put Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde on the brink of the sack.
And although the final lacked goals and quality finishing, there was drama until the end and joy on the faces of Real Madrid’s players as Ramos hoisted another trophy under the fireworks.
Ramos had been guilty of sloppiness early on and Atletico should have capitalised.
The defender played a pass straight to Joao Felix on the edge of the area but Felix dragged wide and then Ferland Mendy gave the ball away, only for Morata to look for contact from Courtois and a penalty when there was neither.
– Courtois saves the day –
Both teams had good chances to win it late on, with Luka Jovic’s deflected cross finding Valverde free five yards out but the midfielder’s header hit his own knee before drifting harmlessly over.
Then Atletico might have nicked it as Kieran Trippier clipped an excellent pass over the top for Morata, who opted for accuracy rather than power and Courtois was able to push away.
Into extra-time and, with 105 minutes on the clock, Courtois did well to flash out a leg and block Morata’s acrobatic effort while Oblak twice denied Real, first a curling shot from Luka Modric and then a follow-up from Mariano Diaz.
Yet the most dramatic moment was still to come as Saul sent Morata clean through, with only Courtois to beat, before the chasing Valverde scythed him down from behind.
The red card was inevitable but Atletico only had a free-kick and, for four minutes, a one-man advantage. Trippier hit the free-kick into the wall and Real held on for penalties.
Carvajal found the corner but Saul struck the post, despite sending Courtois the wrong way. Rodrygo coolly put Real two ahead and Thomas missed, this time Courtois diving right and palming clear.
Modric swept into the corner before Trippier did the same. It was left to Ramos to hit the winning shot.
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