KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS –— The glitz and glamour of both World Cup and elite European club competition will light up Cardiff tonight when Real Madrid take on Spanish rivals Sevilla in the UEFA Supercup.
This is only the third time that clubs from the same country have contested the annual curtain-raising clash between the previous campaign’s winners of the Champions League and the Europa League (formerly Fairs Cup and UEFA Cup). Sevilla would delight in upsetting the expectations – and not for the first time.
In 1990 Italy’s Milan beat Sampdoria over two legs, in 1993 Parma beat Milan and in 2006 Sevilla beat Barcelona. That was Sevilla’s only success in the contest. Madrid have also won it only once, beating Feyenoord in 2002.
Those days were far distant from the financially-enhanced state of today’s high-level game. Madrid underline the point by bringing with them to Cardiff, for competitive debuts, both newly-signed World Cups stars in Colombia’s James Rodriguez and Germany’s Toni Kroos.
An especial welcome in the Valleys is expected however not for either of them but Gareth Bale, who became the world’s most expensive footballer – let alone most expensive Welsh player – when Madrid bought him from Tottenham for £95m last year.
Bale then crowned his first season by scoring Madrid’s fourth goal in the victory over neighbours Atletico in Lisbon which secured the club’s record-extending 10th European champions’ crown. That was his 22nd goal of a season which started amid uncertainty because of injuries.
Madrid will be without Xabi Alonso because of suspension and coach Carlo Ancelotti is expected to test this almost attackingly over-balanced line-up: Casillas – Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao – Kroos, James Rodriguez, Modric – Bale, Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo.
However both that bravado and a lack of work together has encouraged Sevilla coach Unai Emery to believe his team could spring an upset on the foundation of what he described as an “extra strong defensive unit” to face Madrid.
He said: “They have enough to test us defensively thoroughly. In the 90 minutes we’ll spend more time in defence than in attack.”
Emery played down suggestions about a lack of fitness of the Madrid squad after so many had been on World Cup duty.
He said: “These are elite players in every physical, technical and tactical sense. They are players who, even with little training, if they have a ball at their feet out on the pitch can show their best.”
He knew that Kroos and Rodriguez had played with their new team-mates only in training but added: “We have studied them individually to try to work out how they will play and we also know we dare not leave spaces for Cristiano, Benzema and Bale.”
The Supercup will also see vanishing spray, which was such a success at the World Cup in Brazil, make its European competition debut.
UEFA tested it at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Malta in May after it had been trialled by world federation FIFA last year at all its junior championships.
Created by a Brazilian, it will be used in the Champions League from the play-off round onward, and in the UEFA Europa League from the start of the group stage. The spray will also be used in the European qualifiers for Euro 2016, which begin in September.