Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the hero in Saudi Arabia on Thursday as Barcelona beat Real Betis on 4-2 penalties following a 2-2 draw after extra-time in the Spanish Supercopa semifinal. Ter Stegen saved spot kicks from Juanmi and William Carvalho to tee up Pedri to score the winning goal and set up a Clasico showdown with Real Madrid at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh on Sunday.
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Barca had twice led through Robert Lewandowski and Ansu Fati but Betis fought back, first through Nabil Fekir and then Lorenzo Moron. Andres Guardado was sent off for two bookings late on as the game went to penalties. Willian Jose, Lewandowski, Moron and Franck Kessie all scored to leave the shootout delicately poised at 2-2, but when Ter Stegen saved from Juanmi and Carvalho, Ansu and Pedri kept their composure to send Barca into the final.
JUMP TO: Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Xavi can win first trophy in Clasico final
The Supercopa is fourth on Barca's list of priorities this season -- behind LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League -- but the need to win a first trophy since Xavi Hernandez took charge has increased the importance of winning the competition in the Middle East this week. Xavi has accepted that silverware is required to validate promising results in LaLiga this season and to kickstart a new era after winning just one Copa del Rey in the past three seasons.
Barca are now one victory away from winning their first trophy since Xavi took charge in November 2021. This was far from straightforward, though. Barca started well, with a Pedri goal disallowed, but only took the lead late in the first half when Betis were on top. Pedri and Ousmane Dembele combined brilliantly to set up Lewandowski, who scored at the second time of asking.
Betis could have been level by the break but for the brilliance of Ter Stegen, but did equalise in the second half. The lively Luiz Henrique did well before Fekir finished smartly. Barca thought they had won the game when Lewandowski found the net again, but another offside flag ruled the goal out and took the tie to extra-time.
Ansu's brilliant volley did restore Barca's lead, but a clever back-heel from Moron ensured penalties were to follow as Xavi's side once again failed to see out a game they led. All will be forgotten, though, if they can win the first trophy on offer in Spain this season on Sunday, especially as it would mean getting one over Clasico rivals Madrid.
2. Ter Stegen the hero for slow-motion Barca
Even before his penalty heroics, and despite conceding two goals, Ter Stegen had kept Barca in the game. He made fine first-half saves from German Pezzella, Rodrigo Sanchez and Henrique and another after the break from Juan Miranda. Then he stole the show in the shootout with his two stops.
While Barca celebrated the performance of their German goalkeeper, there will be concern at their failure to put games to bed since the World Cup break. They were pegged back by Espanyol to draw 1-1 in LaLiga and then surrendered three leads against third-division side Intercity before eventually progressing in the Copa del Rey last week. They did hold on to beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 at the weekend, but they were on the ropes at points in that match.
Improvements are needed, but they are in a good place to build. They are top of LaLiga, three points clear of Madrid, and a Supercopa trophy -- their first since 2018 -- would provide a platform for more success in the second half of the deason.
3. Betis can compete with gem Henrique
Betis are well known for the high level of technical ability in their side. Fekir and Sergio Canales would be welcomed by many of Europe's big sides, but on Thursday it was Henrique who announced himself on the top stage. The 22-year-old Brazilian, a summer signing from Fluminense, set up both Betis goals and was a constant thorn in Barca's side on the right flank. Not even cramp could slow him down in extra-time. This season has so far been spent adapting to his new surroundings, but he looks set to have a big say in the second half of the campaign.
Despite this defeat, Betis are still competing on three fronts: in the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and for a top-four spot in LaLiga. They currently occupy fourth in the league and, while the competition is tough, this performance suggests there is no reason why Manuel Pellegrini's side cannot find a place among Europe's elite next season. Their Copa del Rey triumph last year -- their first major trophy in 17 years -- has only fuelled the hunger for more success.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona. Made saves from Pezzella, Sanchez and Henrique in the first half and another after the break from Miranda. Was then the star of the shootout.
BEST: Luiz Henrique, Real Betis. Henrique set up both is team's goals having almost scored himself earlier in the game. Growing into his role on the right of Betis' attack.
BEST: Nabil Fekir, Real Betis. Took his goal well and almost added a second before the end of regulation time. Barca struggled to stop him getting on the ball.
WORST: Aitor Ruibal, Real Betis. Dembele tormented Rubial in the first half and breezed past him too easily to create the first goal of the game.
WORST: Sergi Roberto, Barcelona. Did OK defensively but Barca needed more from him in attack. Didn't link well with Raphinha and his touch occasionally let him down when he did get into good positions.
WORST: Marcos Alonso, Barcelona. Only came on in the second half but was turned inside out by Henrique for Betis' second goal.
Highlights and notable moments
Barcelona are undefeated this season when Lewandowski scores 😳 pic.twitter.com/6POJ1Cf3f4— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) January 12, 2023
And it continues.
After the match: What the players/managers said
Xavi: "[Ter Stegen] makes the difference for us. I have been delighted with him since I have been here. Today the cherry on the cake, saving the two penalties."
Pellegrini: "It was a complete performance apart from the first 25 minutes. We played well and in the second half we were better. I think over 120 minutes, the balance would be in our favour."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
- Lewandowski has now scored in 13 of the 14 different competitions and leagues he has played in throughout his club career. The lone exception is the UEFA Super Cup, which he only played once, in 2020 vs. Sevilla.
- Four of Ansu's five goals this season in all competitions have been as a sub.
Real Betis: The Copa del Rey beckons for Betis, who welcome Osasuna to the Benito Villamarin on Wednesday for a Copa del Rey round-of-16 tie.
Barcelona: Their penalty-shootout victory sees Barca move on to Sunday's Supercopa final against Real Madrid (1:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).