Cristiano Ronaldo resumed where he left off last season, scoring twice to set his Real Madrid galácticos on the road to renewed prosperity with their first trophy of the new campaign, the European Super Cup. The Welsh public turned out in force to cheer for their own hero, Gareth Bale, but the night belonged to the World Footballer of the Year, who was watched from the VIP seats by Sir Alex Ferguson, his old manager-cum-mentor.
Ferguson, who was judging the man-of-the-match award, inevitably gave it to his old protégé, saying: “Usually it is difficult to pick one player when there are so many good ones on the pitch but Cristiano made it easy for me tonight.”
The Real goalscorer extraordinaire said: “I thanked Alex, getting it from him meant a great deal because he was the coach who taught me a lot when I was at Manchester United from 18 years of age.” Ronaldo would in all likelihood have had a hat-trick but for a last-ditch tackle late on by Poland’s Gregor Krychowiak, who dispossessed him inside the D.
Real were short-price favourites, with Sevilla clearly second-best in terms of tradition and extravagant talent. Madrid’s finest have won La Liga a record 32 times to their opponents’ once [in 1946], and last season Sevilla, who finished fifth, trailed them by 24 points. It was a case of the haves versus the have-nots, Carlo Ancelotti’s class of 2014-15 costing an eye-watering £360m.
A mismatch then? Not exactly. Last March a 2-1 defeat in the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium derailed Real’s pursuit of the title which, to their chagrin, was won by their neighbours, Atlético.
This match was a sell-out, eventually, to Welsh relief. Of the 32,000 tickets sold only 10,000 were taken up by the two Spanish clubs, who returned most of their allocation. Some 22,000 went to British-based fans keen to see this stellar cast close up and personal.
As might have been expected, Real, the winners of the Champions League last season, did most of the attacking, with Bale (twice) and Ronaldo seeing shots deflected or blocked during the opening exchanges. Sevilla, the Europa League holders, were content to respond on the break.
A notable absentee from their defence was Alberto Moreno, the 22-year-old left-back who is about to join Liverpool for an initial £12m. His place was taken by the more experienced Spanish international Fernando Navarro, 31. Fernando had his hands full with Bale but it was Karim Benzema, moving out to the right, who set up the best of the early chances, his pass inside allowing Ronaldo a shot from seven yards which demanded an excellent, spreading save from Portugal’s Beto in the Sevilla goal.
Real were denied only until the 30th minute. Then Bale, who had switched wings, delivered an inviting cross from the left and Ronaldo, sliding in at the far post, opened the scoring from five yards. Unfazed, Sevilla threatened to restore equality within four minutes when a feeble attempt at a headed clearance by James Rodríguez let in Daniel Carriço for a close-range shot which tested the reflexes of Iker Casillas.
Four minutes into the second half the game was effectively over as a contest when typical Real interplay,featuring Ronaldo, Toni Kroos and Benzema culminated in Ronaldo driving home his second, left to right, from a yard or so inside Beto’s penalty area.
The power behind the shot was impressive but the goalkeeper was not entirely blameless, having thrown both hands towards the ball to no effect. Sevilla had to come out of their defensive cocoon now and ventured forward in greater numbers but Real remained much the more cohesive, dangerous team and Benzema threatened to widen the margin after 63 minutes when his scudding shot had Beto in more productive action.
The Sevilla coach, Unai Emery, responded to the crisis by sending on Iago Aspas, formerly of Liverpool, but it took a notable save by the busy Beto to prevent Rodríguez, Colombia’s £63m man, from celebrating his debut with a goal. The Golden Boot winner from the World Cup was substituted almost immediately – an acknowledgment from Carlo Ancelotti that Real’s job was done.
Sevilla attacked feverishly right at the end but were never really in it after the first goal went in. After the chastening experience of finishing third in La Liga last season, Real have stated their intention to win “everything” this time. They have made a promising start.