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FC Barcelona have missed out on a place in Sunday’s Spanish Super Cup Final after losing 3-2 to Real Madrid in a thoroughly entertaining semi-final in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.
The Catalans bow out of the competition with their heads held high. They have lost a fabulous end-to-end encounter that could quite easily have gone either way and despite the defeat there were endless positives to take back home, including a debut and two key players returning from injury.
The result was the wrong one, a trophy has gone begging and it always hurts to lose to your bitterest rival, yet looking ahead, this game suggests that there are plenty of brighter moments to look forward to before this season is over.
Madrid take charge
Whatever the competition, whatever the venue, a Clásico is always a Clásico. And right from the start, this one didn’t disappoint.
Chances were rapidly flowing for both sides, but Real Madrid were finding a lot more space to operate in going forward and eventually took the lead when Karim Benzema robbed Sergio Busquets and deviously sent Vinícius Júnior charging through to put the all-whites ahead.
Luuk feels the force
They may have been trailing, but Barça, with new signing Ferran Torres picked straight into the starting XI, were very much in the game and started to create even more danger after going behind.
Ousmane Dembélé’s runs were a constant threat and one of the best weapons was again turning out to be Luuk de Jong’s head. The Dutchman had already had a couple of close calls before he finally had the ball in the net for the third game in a row, albeit in somewhat unorthodox fashion.
Dembélé’s low cross was deflected away by Eder Militão, but it bounded straight off De Jong’s shins and into the net.
Xavi Hernández had more new cards to play in the second half. After three and a half months out through injury, and having only played four games this season, Pedri was finally back. The Canary Islander’s presence made a quick impact and Barça were now controlling much longer periods of the play.
And also fresh back from injury, on came Ansu Fati for his first game since November. Blaugrana fans in every continent were buzzing. The missing links were all being replaced.
That double injection of morale was quickly neutralised when moments after curling a fine shot onto the post Benzema was on hand to tap in a Dani Carvajal assist.
The all-whites were back ahead, but again Barça refused to be unfazed. The fight-back was relentless and was eventually rewarded when Ansu Fati made the very best of some sloppy Madrid marking to head in Jordi Alba’s cross.
2-2 and everything seemed to be swinging Barça’s way, but this one was going to need another 30 minutes.
Third time unlucky
Barça started extra time looking more on top than ever but got caught 4 against 3 on the counter and Fede Valverde advanced Madrid for the third time.
Again Barça responded excellently to the setback of going behind, driving forward while working overtime to contain Madrid’s constant threat to move into the spaces they were forced to leave in their wake.
Madrid had chances to kill off the game but failed to take them, and Barça could very easily have taken the game to penalties. But it wasn’t to be and instead it will be Real Madrid who will play either Athletic Club or Atlético Madrid in Sunday’s showdown at the same venue.
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