Athletic, worthy champions of a great tournament

Marcelino has got off to a great start at Athletic – one of Spain’s historic clubs, delivering a trophy during a quickfire tournament in which they beat both Real Madrid and Barça in the space of just four days. I like this new format of the Super Cup – I like it as much as I disliked the old format. I’ve always felt that the idea of the league winners and Cup champions deciding who is the best team was a bit artificial. The best team is the one which wins LaLiga. The Super Cup is something else entirely. It’s about the crème de la crème from the previous season taking part in a mini-tournament which has its own, distinct feel. Athletic have won it and while at the moment, with the pandemic, it’s not the right time to be talking about victory parades onboard the Gabarra, Sunday’s win will long be remembered for the great Cup triumph it was.

Nightmare for Messi

On top of that, it will surely have consequences, knock-on effects similar to what we witnessed last season. For Barça, last year’s elimination prompted the start of internal friction from which they still have not recovered. Zidane has taken some criticism for Madrid’s disappointing exit on Thursday. And Messi comes out of it probably worst of all - sent off for an ugly moment of aggression, one that was indisputable – shortly after the ref and VAR decided to overlook a similar incident just moments earlier. The final was a nightmare for Messi who looked sluggish throughout. Maybe he wasn’t really focused, perhaps he shouldn’t have played at all, but who is to say either way? He looked weary and as a result, so did Barça, who aspired to lift the trophy but without making an effort. They came close, but it would have been undeserved.

Athletic, a unique club

By the 88th minute, Barcelona were 2-1 up without even having taken a corner. A couple of Jordi Alba runs, two shots from Griezmann. That was all against an Athletic side which pressed high and went in search of the win with less quality but a lot more enthusiasm. They managed to make it 2-2 right at the death through Villalibre who levelled just as De Marcos had done at the end of the first half. In extra-time, Iñaki Williams cut inside on the edge of the area then unleashed a sublime strike which Ter Stegen could only watch enter the top corner. It meant Athletic, a club which L’Équipe described as practically unique in world football, lifted the trophy, defending in the process their right to be up there with their own particular ideology.