Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

The 248th clash between these two great rivals was played in Riyadh — the first to be played outside of Spain — with the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) having agreed a multi-year deal for the semifinals and final of the Supercup to be played in Saudi Arabia.

The 2019-20 edition was the first to be hosted by Saudi Arabia and the RFEF has now agreed a contract with the Saudis for the mini tournament to be held in the Middle Eastern country until 2029, reportedly worth €30 million ($34 million) per season.

The deal, orchestrated by RFEF president Luis Rubiales, is further evidence of Saudi Arabia’s global sporting ambitions.

Yet as Saudi Arabia emerges as a powerful stakeholder in global sport, the country’s human rights record has come under focus, with activists accusing the kingdom of “sportswashing” — a phenomenon whereby corrupt or autocratic regimes invest in sports events to whitewash their international reputation.

The staging of the Supercup tournament in Saudi Arabia has also faced criticism in Spain.

Before leaving for the tournament on Tuesday, Athletic Bilbao midfielder Raul Garcia — whose side faces Atletico Madrid in the other semifinal on Thursday — called the decision to host tournament p in Saudi Arabia “a complete nonsense.”

“Maybe I’m old school, but football has changed and the fans have been forgotten. I don’t think I need to say that, anyone can see,” Garcia said, as reported by Reuters.

Despite the protestations, the tournament is set to be held abroad for another eight years at least and on Wednesday Real Madrid became the first team to book its place in Sunday’s final.

The match against Barcelona, played in Riyadh’s King Fahd Stadium, was action-packed and exactly what Saudi organizers would have been hoping for in the tournament opener.

Real Madrid's players celebrate with Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior (20) after scoring during the Spanish Super Cup semifinal against Barcelona at the King Fahad International stadium in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Vinícius Jr. gave Real Madrid the lead after 25 minutes, before Dutch forward Luuk de Jong equalized for Barcelona just before half time.

Karim Benzema scored with just under 20 minutes remaining and Real looked to be heading for victory, but teenager Ansu Fati’s goal seven minutes from time ensured the game went to extra time.

However, Real did once again get itself into the lead through Valverde eight minutes into extra time and Barcelona was unable to find an equalizer for a third time, meaning Los Blancos will now play either Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao in Sunday’s final, hosted at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium.

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By tilu858

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