The Spanish Super Cup is delicately poised after Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid played to a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night in the first leg at the Estadio Bernabeu.
James Rodriguez scored his first goal for Real Madrid to put the hosts ahead in the 81st minute. But with Real seemingly headed for victory, Raul Garcia netted the equaliser for Atletico from an 88th-minute corner.
The result means the second leg, which is scheduled for Friday at Atletico's Estadio Vicente Calderon, should be an intriguing affair. Victory for either side would be enough to win the cup, while Atletico could claim victory, by virtue of their away goal, with a scoreless draw.
Atletico reached the Super Cup after claiming the Spanish league title last season, having beaten out their more fancied rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid. The squad was subsequently raided, with striker Diego Costa, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois—who was recalled from loan—and defenders Filipe Luis and Javier Manquillo among the players departing in the summer.
In their place, however, manager Diego Simeone has brought in striker Mario Mandzukic, winger Antoine Griezmann, defender Guilherme Siqueira and goalkeepers Jan Oblak and Miguel Angel Moya. The additions should leave Atletico well placed to compete for honours domestically and in Europe, but their crosstown rivals have strengthened even more dramatically.
Real defeated Barcelona in last season's Copa del Rey final to advance to this week's Spanish Super Cup. In addition, the Blancos claimed "La Decima," the club's 10th European title, coming from behind to defeat Atletico in the final. But the Blancos did not stand still, instead adding Colombian playmaker James along with German World Cup winner Toni Kroos.
Those big names joined a squad already full of star names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and others. With so much talent on the books, it seems inevitable that Real will challenge for silverware on multiple fronts this season.
Before the match, Real Madrid paid tribute to club legend Alfredo di Stefano, who died in July at age 88. Di Stefano helped lead Real to eight league titles and five European Cup triumphs during his glittering career in the Spanish capital.
Neither team scored in a tight first half, but both created chances. In the 14th minute, Mandzukic forced a save from Casillas with a volley from the edge of the box. Casillas saved again one minute later, this time stopping Saul Niguez's low shot after Ramos gifted Atletico possession in the middle.
Mandzukic had another opportunity in the 33rd minute after Casillas failed to clear properly with a punch. But the Atletico striker volleyed straight at Casillas, who looked stranded off his line.
Real had an opening four minutes before half-time as Bale picked out Ronaldo with an excellent cross from the left. Ronaldo rose highest to meet the ball at the back post, but he flicked his header off target.
The start of the second half saw the introduction of James in place of Ronaldo, and in the 47th minute, Real created their first chance of the match. A passage of intricate interplay on the right ended with Bale finding space inside the box. After gliding past a defender, the Welshman drove his shot on target from a tight angle, but Moya saved.
There was controversy near the hour mark as Ramos and Mandzukic were involved in an aerial clash near midfield. Mandzukic fell atop Ramos, who then appeared to strike the Atletico man with a closed fist. The referee booked both players, though Ramos could have felt fortunate to remain on the pitch.
Real had their best chance yet in the 69th minute, coming close twice in quick succession. First, Bale saw his powerful free-kick saved before Kroos drove the rebound wildly over the bar.
When Benzema sent a looping header over the bar in the 77th minute, the match seemed destined for a scoreless draw. But the breakthrough finally came in the 81st minute as Real received their reward for an extended spell of pressure.
After Atletico failed to clear their lines, Kroos slotted a pass to Daniel Carvajal on the right. Carvajal crossed into the middle for Benzema, who was unable to shoot with two defenders closely monitoring. But the ball trickled back to James, whose deflected shot found the back of the net.
Atletico nearly found an instant replay, Koke forcing Casillas to save a fierce, long-distance drive in the 82nd minute. Six minutes later, the visitors were level. Koke curled in a corner from the left, dropping the ball in the middle of the six-yard box for Garcia, who flicked in uncontested for the equaliser.
Real weren't finished, though. Attacking on the right side of the box, Carvajal sent a shot toward goal only for Mario Suarez to block. Replays showed that the ball struck Suarez's hand, but the referee waved play on as Real's players appealed for a penalty.
It wasn't to be, however, and both teams had to settle for a draw that leaves both in contention for the first domestic silverware of the season.
|Real Madrid Player Ratings|
|James Rodriguez (for Ronaldo, 45')||N/A||7.3|
|Angel Di Maria (for Modric, 78')||N/A||6.3|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
|Atletico Madrid Player Ratings|
|Miguel Angel Moya||6.4||6.9|
|Antoine Griezmann (for Niguez, 57')||N/A||6.1|
|Cristian Ansaldi (for Siqueira, 64')||N/A||6.1|
|Raul Jimenez (for Mandzukic, 78')||N/A||6.1|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted Atletico will be favourites heading into the second leg, telling RealMadrid.com:
They have a slight advantage because we have to score in the Calderón. We’re going to try and score goals there. If we can repeat today’s match we’ll win the Supercup of Spain.
The team played well. In the first half we did not have a huge amount of pace but in the second we did very well. We controlled the match throughout, pressing up front and played well. The three midfielders did very well.
Speaking about the decision to remove Ronaldo from the match at half-time, Ancelotti said: "He felt something and was uncomfortable. We’ll evaluate it tomorrow, he’ll undergo all the checks and we’ll see what it is. It doesn’t seem to be anything serious."
Meanwhile, Atletico goalscorer Raul Garcia said his team never gives up, telling ClubAtleticoMadrid.com: "We never write-off on a match. Usually, the forwards have more chances to score a goal but it depends on the work of the whole team."