JEDDAH (REUTERS) - Atletico Madrid pulled off a stunning turnaround to beat Barcelona 3-2 in an enthralling Spanish Super Cup tie in Saudi Arabia on Thursday (Jan 9) and book their place in the final of the revamped competition.
Atletico will meet city rivals Real Madrid in Sunday's final back at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah after their late revival wrecked tournament organisers' dream of a 'Clasico' showpiece climax between Spain's most famous sides.
Argentine forward Angel Correa struck the decisive goal in the 86th minute to complete an unlikely late comeback for Atletico after Barca had dominated the second half and had two goals ruled out following VAR reviews.
Substitute Koke had put Atletico in front at the start of the second half but Lionel Messi levelled in the 51st minute. Messi soon put the ball in the net again but his second effort was ruled out for handball following a VAR review.
Former Atletico striker Antoine Griezmann did put Barca in front in the 65th while Gerard Pique thought he had extended their lead moments later but that goal was also ruled out after a VAR review, this time for a fractional offside against Arturo Vidal.
“They had more legs than us and in the end it cost us,” said Griezmann.
“We made mistakes in everything, in passes – I think I missed a pass to Sam (Umtiti) before they scored – and the little things can lose you a match, a league, a Champions League.”
Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “You saw our bite, our belief, our desire. It’s what this club is all about. It is important for the club, we beat the best attacking team in the world."
Atleti had spent most of the second half trying to stop waves of Barca attacks but got a lifeline when substitute Vitolo was tripped by goalkeeper Neto and striker Alvaro Morata equalised from the penalty spot in the 81st minute.
Stand-in keeper Neto was also at fault for the winning goal, failing to properly block Correa's shot which bounced into the net to complete a rapid Atleti counterattack.
The in-form Argentine winger had suffered a painful-looking blow to his knee from Neto early in the game and received medical attention on the sidelines but he made a full recovery and went on to deliver one final twist.
"It was a very strange game, it was very hot and it was very tough for us but luckily we were able to turn things around and win," Correa said.
"We got the victory because we had faith, we were always looking to win the game, we did that and we're very happy."
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said on Wednesday he preferred the old format but his strong team selection, that included Messi, Griezmann and Luis Suarez, suggested this was a tournament he was eager to win.
“The goal for 2-2 came at a time when we didn’t know how to get a hold of the game,” said Valverde, whose position will come under renewed scrutiny.
“There is always instability when you lose,” he added.
Neither Atletico nor Real would have qualified for the Super Cup under its previous format as a curtain raiser between the Spanish league champions and the Cup winners.
Spanish soccer federation chief Luis Rubiales led a radical overhaul of the competition last year, doubling the number of teams and signing a three-year deal to move it to Saudi Arabia, which media reports say is worth €40 million (S$60 million) annually.