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Karim Benzema and Real Madrid play Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals on Thursday

Football

Real Madrid defend Super Cup repatriated from Saudi to storm-hit Spain

MADRID, Spain, Jan 12Despite the concerns about a crammed fixture calendar in a season badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Spain is going ahead with its four-team Super Cup this week as Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao provide the opposition for Barcelona and Real Madrid.

However, after being taken to Saudi Arabia in January 2020, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) is organising this year’s version in Andalusia, with the final on Sunday at La Cartuja in Seville.

From the shores of the Red Sea back to Spain, which has been battered in recent days by Storm Filomena delivering the country’s worst snowfall in decades as well as brutally cold temperatures.

Barcelona play Real Sociedad in the first semi-final on Wednesday in Cordoba, before trophy holders Madrid face Athletic Bilbao in Malaga on Thursday, with the winners remaining in southern Spain to contest Sunday’s final. All of the games will be behind closed doors.

In ordinary times the RFEF would not have given up on its controversial money-spinning Saudi venture, after initially agreeing a 120 million-euro ($146m) three-year deal to play an expanded four-team competition in the Middle Eastern Kingdom.

That agreement also included the option of three more years, but the lack of fans allowed in Saudi stadiums led the Federation to renegotiate its contract and bring the tournament back home.

The move abroad followed in the footsteps of Italy and France, who have taken their own equivalents of the Super Cup — between the previous season’s league champions and domestic cup winners — to foreign shores in recent years.

This time the competition sees reigning La Liga champions Madrid and runners-up Barcelona joined by the two finalists from last season’s Copa del Rey, an all-Basque final which was postponed due to the health crisis and has still not been played.

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– ‘Puppets‘ –

That means current La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid are not involved, while Real will not go into their semi-final in the best shape after a build-up impacted by the winter storm.

Zinedine Zidane’s team were left stuck in the northern city of Pamplona for three nights due to the weather, leaving on Monday after drawing 0-0 with Osasuna on Saturday in a game which Zidane and his players felt should not have gone ahead.

“We are not puppets who should have to play all the time. We made the effort but we need to think about the travel involved too,” complained goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Instead of returning to the capital, they flew straight to Malaga to prepare for the Super Cup.

Athletic, meanwhile, had their game away to Atletico in Madrid postponed because of the snow — their plane circled the sky awaiting permission to land before being forced to return home.

Their hope is to be able to play their Basque neighbours in the final on Sunday before they eventually clash again in the delayed Copa del Rey showpiece.

“We are not used to winning trophies and it would be special and unforgettable,” admitted their Spanish international centre-back Inigo Martinez.

Before that game Barcelona will hope to continue their perfect start to 2021 against a Real Sociedad side who were top of La Liga but have won just one of their last nine league games.

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“We are close to a first title of the season and we come into this full of excitement because we are on a good run,” said Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets.

Spanish Super Cup fixtures (11pm)

Semi-finals

Wednesday

At Cordoba

Real Sociedad v Barcelona

Thursday

At Malaga

Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao

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– Final on Sunday in Seville

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