Barcelona v Real Betis, Thursday 12th January 2023, 10pm

The Super Cup is the Spanish version of the English Community Shield, or the Charity Shield to those of us old enough to remember Keegan and Bremner picking up long bans for an on-field scrap and then flinging down their shirts as they trudged off. That’s probably about as seriously as anyone had ever treated the game in England until foreign managers pitched up in the Premier league and started claiming the Shield in their trophy counts.

Whilst the Spanish Super Cup previously followed the traditional format of the league champions playing the cup winners, it has expanded and now includes the runners up from each competition. I’m sure that the thinking behind that approach is that it increases the chances of Real Madrid and Barcelona being involved which is probably quite important when you are hawking the rights to stage the competition around the world. Morocco hosted the first Super Cup to take place outside of Spain, but for three of the last four years it has been held in Saudi Arabia.

The game that I selected to attend was the second semi-final and between Barcelona and Real Betis. I picked up a ticket online for ninety-three riyals which was less than half the price of an Al-Shabab game at the stadium near my hotel.

All of the Super Cup games were taking place at the King Fahd International Stadium in the north-east part of Riyadh. I flagged down a fake taxi driver who wouldn’t quote me a fare. He just said not to worry and then, as almost all the taxi drivers do here, chatted about cricket. They all seem to have a favourite English player and this fella raved about Moeen Ali. It took around half an hour to get to the ground and, once there, he still wouldn’t give me a price. I gave him a hundred riyals which he seemed happy enough with. Maybe I overpaid, but if not, he’ll have learned a valuable lesson to mention the price in advance next time.

My seat was in one of the corners. It was free-seating, but within your allocated block and the stewards did well in making sure that everyone sat where they were supposed to. Lots of the fans around me were wearing Barcelona shirts or waving scarves or flags. I didn’t see anyone supporting Betis, but there were a few people with Real Madrid shirts on favouring them by proxy.

Many of the Barcelona ‘fans’ joined in with the singing and just about the whole crowd, with the exception of a curmudgeonly Englishman, got to their feet for the Mexican waves.

I’d no idea whether Betis were at full strength, but Barcelona fielded a decent line-up. Cynically I wondered whether certain players were contractually obliged to make an appearance. If there were any stipulations, I’d have liked to have seen them extended to the kits as for some reason Barcelona were wearing red shorts and socks.

It was a competitive first half, with ter Stegen pulling off a couple of very good saves and Barcelona having one chalked off at the other end after a VAR review. Lewandowski finally managed to break the deadlock five minutes before the break and Barcelona went in at half-time a goal to the good.

I needed some smaller notes for the taxi on the way back, so made myself unpopular at a stall on the concourse by buying a KitKat with a forty quid note. As I pocketed my change I noticed a procession of entertainers ranging from a brass band to Messi lookalikes performing juggling tricks. I latched on to them and followed them through a gate to the side section for a different second half view from the main stand.

Betis equalized with around a quarter of an hour to go, sparking some gleeful celebrating from a bloke in a Real Madrid shirt. With the score level at full-time and the clock ticking around to midnight I wrongly assumed that we’d go straight to penalties. Instead, the teams lined up for extra-time and after the first fifteen minutes each side had added another goal.

At that point I called it a night as I didn’t care which team won and I was worried that I might not be able to find a taxi outside. My fears were unfounded though and a bloke outside, who volunteered that Joss Butler was his favourite cricketer, agreed to drive me back to town for one hundred and fifty riyals. Perhaps I had underpaid the first guy.

I checked on the score when I got back to the hotel and at ten to one in the morning Barcelona had prevailed on penalties, setting up the ‘Clasico’ final that the sponsors and tv companies will have been hoping for.

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