Thibaut Courtois was Real Madrid’s star as they beat Valencia 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Riyadh on Wednesday to reach the Spanish Super Cup final.
The reigning Super Cup champions were again below their best amid a difficult start to 2023, but Courtois excelled, making crucial saves and then decisively denying Jose Gaya in the shootout after extra time .
Madrid will continue to face either Barcelona or Real Betis, who play on Thursday, in Sunday’s final.
La Liga champions Madrid against Spanish Cup runners-up had chances to win the game within 90 minutes but needed Courtois to pull off a superb reflex save from Fran Perez in extra time.
Karim Benzema had sent Madrid in front from the penalty spot but Gennaro Gattuso’s side equalized early in the second half through Samuel Lino.
Valencia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili also made some excellent saves, including one from Vinicius Junior in stoppage time, forcing extra time.
“Courtois is one of the four or five best goalkeepers in the world, (but) my keeper made four or five really good saves,” Gattuso said.
“We were unlucky on our side, that’s football. You have to be lucky and today we didn’t have it. We missed two penalties.”
The first was returned by Eray Comert, who also gave away the penalty converted by Benzema, and the second was parried by Courtois, who read Gaya’s intention to shoot through the middle.
“Obviously as a goalkeeper you have to study penalties,” Courtois told Movistar.
“Gaya missed his last against Sevilla down the left and scored his last in the middle against Betis so we knew he was going to fire there.”
The Spanish Super Cup was first held in Saudi Arabia in 2020 in the current ‘final four’ format – and will remain in the country until at least 2029, despite criticism over the hosts’ record in matters of human rights.
Los Blancos started strong, with Benzema producing a glorious dribble, but Cenk Ozkacar did well to cut it.
Courtois fended off Edinson Cavani’s header and then did enough to fend off Toni Lato, who burst in from the right and unsuccessfully demanded a penalty when he slipped.
Madrid took the lead shortly before half-time, when Eder Militao played a fine ball over to send Benzema through.
The striker was clumsily brought down in the box by Comert and hid the resulting penalty, sending Mamardashvili the wrong way.
Courtois made a superb save to deny Cavani before the break, although the veteran Uruguay striker would have been ruled offside.
It was a warning for what was to come, with Lino scoring just seconds after the restart at the King Fahd International Stadium, eluding Lucas Vazquez to finish off Lato’s cross.
Madrid were again unlucky with injury, with Vazquez out injured, while Militao was taken out after being hit in the head by a shot.
Vinicius, who had been silent, should have won the game for Madrid in stoppage time but Mamardashvili denied it with his legs at close range.
It was his counterpart Courtois’ turn to make a miraculous save as the clock ticked down, showing sensational reflexes to deflect Perez’s near-post effort to safety.
Cavani and Benzema both converted from the spot in the shootout, but Comert missed and Luka Modric put Madrid ahead.
Los Blancos converted all four spot-kicks and didn’t need a fifth thanks to Courtois disallowing Gaya.
“We showed our qualities, so that the fans believed in us,” Valencia midfielder Andre Almeida said despite the defeat.
“We have given ourselves a lot of self-confidence, we are proud of our work and we have to continue like this.”
On the other hand, Ancelotti admitted that his team’s performance was not the best, blaming the Winter World Cup in Qatar.
“It was a unique season with a World Cup in the middle,” said the Italian.
“We had 14 players involved in the World Cup, so it’s normal that around 20 days after the end we can’t be at the top level.”
This article is originally published on news-24.fr