KEIR RADNEDGE in CARDIFF —- On paper it really did not look too bad. The ‘300m attack’ the Spanish media called it: Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema not to mention supporting acts such as Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos.
Even though the record 10-times champions of Europe beat Sevilla 2-0 in the UEFA Supercup, however, one nagging doubt remained about the season ahead: Who is going to tackle back, win the ball and feed it to all these magnificent superstars?
Xabi Alonso was suspended, Angel Di Maria only just made it on to the subs’ bench and Sami Khedira was not even in the squad at all.
Seeing Zinedine Zidane out on the pitch with the coaching staff for the warm-up served as a reminder.
After Madrid won their ninth Champions Cup in 2002 – with the Frenchman scoring a magnificent winning goal – president Florentino Perez splashed even more money and replaced low-key players such as Claude Makelele who ‘sold’ few shirts and attracted even fewer sponsors.
Vicente Del Bosque was the coach set the test of making practical sense on the pitch of financial nonsense off it and now history appeared in danger of repeating itself but with Carlo Ancelotti the fall guy of the president’s latest vanity project.
Perez, as a property developer, should know all about the importance of solid foundations and Pepe – to take but one example – hardly appeared cast in such a role. Still, it promised engrossing viewing both here in the impressive Cardiff City Stadium as well as in Champions League group and La Liga to come.
A full three minutes elapsed before the capacity 30,854 saw the first shot. Ronaldo delivered it low from 20m but without connecting cleanly and though keeper Beto had to dive low to his left the Sevilla goal was never in danger.
The game resembled the opening stages of the Champions League Final. Madrid enjoyed most of the possession and stroked the ball around with patience and finesse while the team in red – then Atletico, now Sevilla – stifled midfield, tackled eagerly and snapped forward with venom on the occasional break.
More shooting opportunities had to come – and they did. James was bundled over just outside the penalty box and Ronaldo’s free kick was deflected over the ball then a drive from Bale was foiled the same way. Each time Sevilla’s huddled masses closed ranks emphatically.
Then James, produced a superbly swift, curling cross for Bale which was blocked.
But it was not all one-way traffic. Sevilla went closest in the 19th minute when sloppy passing allowed Vitolo to arrow through on the left and Iker Casillas, standing up at the near post, saved at the expense of a corner.
Key wing switch
Then Benzema set up Ronaldo and this time it was Beto making the one-on-one save. Should have been the first goal.
Not that it was long in coming. Bale switched to the left for the first time and crossed to the far post for Ronaldo to make the kill.
Sevilla should have been on terms within minutes. More focus-free Madrid defending should have been punished by Daniel Carrico but the midfielder’s close-range flip at goal was parried by Casillas who earned a grateful kiss on the cheek from Fabio Coentrao.
Sevilla’s frustration began to show in the minutes before half-time. Ronaldo stood with the ball on the left, taunting the defence, and Vitolo was booked for lifting his studs. To level the yellow card score, at least, Daniel Carvajal was then booked at the other end for impeding the nimble Denis Suarez.
Three minutes into the second half and the first of six-trophy clean sweep appeared secure as Kroos stretched a pass to Benzema and the Frenchman angled a further pass forward into the stride of Ronaldo who bent Beto’s fingers back with the power of his left-foot drive inside the far post.
Minutes later Kroos also had a yellow card to mark his debut. But if that was the price for a trophy on his debut then the German probably did not mind too much.
Now it was a question of how many more goals and would Bale have one to celebrate his Welsh homecoming. He drove a free kick into the wall, James had a thunderous drive pushed for a corner by Beto – whose hands must have stung – and Benzema was too ambitious with a shot on the turn after a white tidal wave surged from one end to the other.
The closing minutes saw the game stutter away in a mish-mash of minor injuries, fatigue and one excellent stop by Casillas from the hard-working Grzegorz Krychowiak as Sevilla – cheered on incessantly by their outstanding fans – made a contest of it right to the very final whistle.
Ronaldo, inevitably, was named man of the match while Sevilla’s players and their fans engaged in a personal farewell to tearful, Liverpool-bound Alberto Moreno. Even had played the result would surely have remained unchanged.
Real Madrid: Casillas – Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Fabio Coentrão (Marcelo 84)- Modric (Illarramendi 86), Kroos, James Rodriguez (Isco 72) – Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo. Coach: Ancelotti.
Sevilla: Beto – Coke (Figueiras 84), Pareja, Fazio, Navarro – Krychowiak, Carrico – Vidal (Aspas 66), Suarez (Reyes 78), Vitolo – Bacca. Coach: Emery.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Eng).