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January 12, 2020

Messi star attraction at Spanish Super Cup final


January 12, 2020

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: Lionel Messi has predictably been the star attraction but there will be no Clasico in Saudi Arabia this weekend, as Atletico Madrid’s defeat of Barcelona set up a clash with rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday.

Messi was cheered by fans at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium from the moment he jogged out to warm up, yet Atletico were the ones celebrating at the end of Thursday’s semi-final in the competition that has been expanded and controversially shipped to a different continent, to a country with a long-condemned record on human rights.

Atletico scored two late goals to beat Barca 3-2, with a derby final now to come against Real Madrid.

When the Spanish Football Federation signed a three-year contract worth 120 million euros ($133.4 million) to move the tournament to Saudi, a title showdown between Real and Barcelona would very likely have been top of the organisers’ wishlist. The draw kept the clubs apart in the semis and a new four-team format ensured Real and Atletico were able to participate at all, given they would not have qualified for the traditional two-legged showdown between league champions and winners of the Copa del Rey.

Including the two other highest-placed finishers in La Liga all-but ensures entry for Barcelona and Real Madrid every year but, as this competition has shown, there is no guarantee of progress.

“The Super Cup will be decided by its guests,” read Catalan sports daily Mundo Deportivo on Friday. “Second in the league against semi-finalist in the cup.”

An all-Madrid final in Jeddah offers both Atletico and Real the chance to claim a first trophy of the campaign and perhaps a valuable psychological boost too.

Certainly, Barcelona and Valencia will resume in La Liga with their rhythm jolted and confidence knocked.

After seven games unbeaten, Valencia were outplayed in their 3-1 semi-final defeat by Real while Barca’s late collapse against Atletico brings doubts around coach Ernesto Valverde rushing back to the surface.

Already on Friday, reports in the Spanish press were linking the club’s former midfielder Xavi Hernandez -- who has been coaching in Qatar -- with taking his job in the summer. “There is always instability when you lose,” admitted Valverde.

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