x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Barcelona beat Atletico to lift Super Cup despite Lionel Messi miss

Gerardo Martino, the Primera Liga champions manager, dedicates his first trophy with Catalans to Tito Vilanova, his predecessor who is battling cancer.

Victor Valdes, centre, the Barcelona goalkeeper, was instrumental in his club's win. Lluis Gene / AFP
Victor Valdes, centre, the Barcelona goalkeeper, was instrumental in his club's win. Lluis Gene / AFP

BARCELONA // Barcelona lifted the first silverware of the Spanish season on away goals after a 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid in the second-leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday night.

Following the 1-1 draw in the first-leg, the Catalans were left to thank Victor Valdes, their goalkeeper, for preserving their advantage as he pulled off incredible saves from Arda Turan and David Villa either side of half-time.

Barca should have then sealed victory on the night themselves as after Filipe Luis was sent off for Atleti, Lionel Messi fired a late penalty off the bar.

"Victor has always had this characteristic which makes a goalkeeper for a big team," Gerardo Martino, the Barcelona manager, told a news conference afterwards.

"They had two shots on goal and he made the saves."

Martino had handed a first start to Neymar as the Brazilian and Lionel Messi lined up for the first time in a competitive match since the former's switch from Santos.

And he conceded the South American duo have plenty to work on as a partnership.

"Separately they have played quite well. It is true that they didn't combine a lot and they didn't find each other.

"Neymar was a bit closed off on the wing and when Leo came deep he drifted to the other side. Sometimes they were too far apart to combine but they will manage to do so with time."

Having weathered an early Barca early storm though, Atleti started to gain a foothold and had the two best openings of the opening period.

Firstly Koke failed to connect properly when he was teed up at the edge of the box allowing Valdes to save easily before the Barca keeper made a stunning save to turn behind Arda's sweetly struck volley.

Valdes was called upon again after the break as he parried Villa's curling effort from the edge of the area as Atleti went in search of the away goal they needed to stay alive in the tie.

And Diego Simeone, the Atleti manager, was left to rue his side's wasted opportunities.

"The match was how I imagined it on both sides," he said.

"They played as they have for many years and we continue to grow, with pride and knowing we can play.

"We had more chances but we couldn't take them."

The more the visitors pushed forward though, the more they were susceptible to the Barca counter-attack and the Catalans passed up a host of opportunities to put the tie to bed.

Neymar was the biggest culprit as he squared when he ought to have gone for goal himself at the back post from Dani Alves' cross midway through the second-half.

Atleti were then reduced to 10 men when Luis saw a straight red card after he clashed with Alves off the ball on 80 minutes.

And Simeone's men were further infuriated by referee David Fernandez Borbalan when he adjudged that Pedro had been felled by a combination of Juanfran and Miranda two minutes from time.

Messi smashed the resultant spot-kick off the bar to ensure the game finished goalless.

However, it mattered little as the hosts comfortably saw out the final few minutes to claim their fourth Super Cup in the past five years.

Martino also dedicated the triumph to Tito Vilanova, his predecessor, who was forced to resign from the role in the summer as he continues his battle with cancer.

"The fact Barcelona won the trophy does not change anything, this triumph came about because of what happened last year. In the end I ended up winning it because of an unfortunate turn of events.

"This trophy belongs to the players, to Tito Vilanova and the rest of the coaching staff."

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