Real Madrid defeated Valencia 3-1 in the first semifinal at King Abdullah Sports City stadium on Wednesday. Atlético and Real Madrid only made it to the tournament this year because the Spanish soccer federation debuted a “Final Four” format as part of a three-year lucrative deal to play in Saudi Arabia. Previously, only the Spanish league champion — Barcelona last season — and the Copa del Rey winner — Valencia — participated.
“We deserved it,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “We knew we had to be patient, we were playing against a very good opponent. We had the feeling that if we could tie the game we would eventually win it, and that's what happened.”
Barcelona was mostly in control throughout the match but Atlético opened the scoring less than 20 seconds into the second half with a goal by midfielder Jorge “Koke” Resurrección, who had come on at halftime.
Barcelona started its comeback five minutes later with Messi equalizing with a well-placed shot after getting past two defenders inside the area. Antoine Griezmann then put his team ahead with a header in the 62nd from the rebound after Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak saved Luis Suárez's attempt.
Barcelona kept playing better but Atlético threatened on counterattacks, and it equalized with a penalty kick converted by Álvaro Morata in the 82nd after striker Víctor “Vitolo” Machín was fouled in a one-on-one situation with Barcelona goalkeeper Neto.
Atlético got the winner four minutes later following another fast counterattack, this time with Ángel Correa scoring with a shot that bounced off goalkeeper Neto before going in. “It was an intense match,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who will be under increased pressure back home after the loss. “It seemed we had it under control but they were able to rally.”
A minute after Morata's equalizer, Atlético had loudly demanded another penalty after a handball by Gerard Piqué, but the non-call stood after video review. The VAR had already disallowed two Barcelona goals, one by Messi because of a handball just before Griezmann's goal, and another by Piqué because of offside in the 73rd, when Barcelona was leading 2-1.
The first half ended with a small altercation involving players from both teams, including Messi and young Atlético forward João Félix. “We played a great match but couldn't get the victory,” Messi said. “We have a lot to improve. We can't make the type of mistakes that we made today."
The mostly pro-Barcelona crowd at the 62,000-capacity King Abdullah stadium was much larger than in the game between Real Madrid and Valencia. The Spanish federation had said ahead of the match it was sold out.
Less than 500 fans had been expected to make the trip from Spain for the matches in Saudi Arabia. The Spanish federation took the Super Cup to Saudi Arabia in a three-year deal reportedly worth 120 million euros ($134 million). It made the move despite criticism from human rights activists and advice from UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin for European soccer teams not to play in countries "where the basic rights of women are not respected.”
On Wednesday, Amnesty International organized a small peaceful protest in front of the Saudi Arabia embassy in Madrid to call for the release of women activists who have been fighting for their rights in Saudi Arabia.
The Spanish federation has praised the fact women are being allowed to watch the Super Cup games, something that was part of the deal when it accepted to play in Saudi Arabia. It said the agreement will help Spain in its attempt to host the 2030 World Cup in a joint bid with Portugal.
The Super Cup was also played abroad last season, when Barcelona beat Sevilla in Tangiers, Morocco, in a single-game final.
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