UEFA Super Cup match preview and analysis
The UEFA Super Cup is finally almost upon us, with the teams safely esconced in their Tallinn hotels (to find out which ones, read on!), tickets (more or less) fully sold out and a raft of activities going on in Freedom Square for those of us without tickets. The months became weeks, the weeks days and the days hours, and it is indeed a matter of 24 hours and counting, separating Tallinn and its football community from the biggest footballing event ever to be held in Estonia.
For just one night, Tallinn will be the focal point of the world as millions of pairs of eyes will be watching the UEFA Super Cup final between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, held at the A.LeCoq Arena (KO at 22.00 EEST on 15 August). In far smaller numbers will be the lucky viewers inside the stadium itself. Read more in our preview as Angelo Palmeri gives us some background to the big game, the stadium, who is playing, and who is visiting Tallinn for at least the second time...
It was just about a month ago that the World was awaiting the biggest football game on Earth, the World Cup final, and yet it is already time for another important evening of football - the eve of the game that has been opening the high-level club football season for 43 years, the one pitting the UEFA Champions League Winners against the UEFA Europa League Winners.
This year, for the first time, it will see a Madrid derby taking the center stage: Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid are moving the Spanish capital city clash to the capital of Estonia, where Tallinn, for the first time ever, will host a high-profile club football event.
Since the city was chosen to host the UEFA Supecup 2018 in August last year, there have been twelve feverish months of preparations, work and expectations. Now, with just under 24 hours to go, Tallinn is putting on its festive garb and is ready to welcome about 3,000 Spanish supporters, journalists and media from all over the world as well as world class players with the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Thibaut Courtois, Antoine Griezmann, Sergio Ramos, Diego Costa and many others.
Enlarged and refurbished A. le Coq Arena
Thanks to an investment assigned by the Estonian government within the framework of the 100th birthday of the Estonian Republic (1918-2018), the Estonian FA obtained the organisation of the event behind the promise to enlarge the tiny A.LeCoq Arena (aka the Lilleküla Arena during UEFA competitions for sponsorship reasons) from the barely 10,000 seats it had before, to the present-day 15,000 places.
Additionally, with the help of government funds, it was possible to finish the roofing of the venue by completing the north stand cover. Thus the legacy of the Super Cup will allow Estonia to enjoy a fully-covered stadium for years to come, since normally it hosts Estonian national team games.
The icing on the cake was the big screen above the west stand, an item that had been missing for a very long time and was a sharp object of criticism by the average Estonian football fan. Turnstiles were also introduced at the gates which, for Estonia and its tiny attendance at local top-flight football, are an absolute innovation. The local football shop, Sportland Football, has been transformed into the UEFA Official Fan Shop with all the merchandising from the final available for purchase before and after the hame. The shop will be accessible in the Arena's surrounding area to ticketholders. But tickets ... are there any?
Exceptions were made for tickets allocated to the clubs for their fans (about 3,000), seats for sponsors, partners and UEFA itself, but the the remaining part of the sale was completed via a lottery system. Fans could register themselves by entering all the necessary data and how many tickets they were wishing to buy in a certain category. Once the applications were sent, only a lucky few were selected by UEFA to receive their e-tickets for the match.
In fact, ticketholders do not actually hold any paper coupons but have received their tickets via the UEFA Super Cup Mobile App. The cost ranged from €130 for the first category to €50 for the third. Out of 15,000 seats, UEFA have given their assurance that circa 70% of the capacity is going to football fans going throug the sale process via the lottery, and allocated about 8,700.
Theoretically, the event should be sold out; however of hopeful fans ready to get a ticket at the gates there are many. Googling 'UEFA Supercup tickets' for instance brings up the chance to buy a Category 3 ticket for €220, four times the actual original price. But this is nothing compared with the €3,240 demanded for a Category 1 ticket! The practice of ticket resale, however, is of course discouraged by UEFA.
Teams in Tallinn
By yesterday evening both teams had reached Tallinn by plane from Madrid. Real Madrid conceded themselves the luxury of being picked up by the club's bus, which itself travelled across Europe over the past few days in order to be on time for an appointment with the landing of the plane carrying the players and personnel at Lennart Meri Airport's runway.
The team soon after landing headed to the Swissotel in central Tallinn, welcomed by about 300 noisy fans. Atlético are just a few footsteps away from their rivals as they are lodged at the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel.
Not the first time for some
Believe it or not, many of the players on the list of call-ups for this game are not setting foot in Tallinn for the first time. Thibaut Courtois, freshly signed by Real Madrid from Chelsea, had played in Tallinn with Belgium during the Russia 2018 Qualifiers; the Belgian shot-stopper left Tallinn with a clean sheet and a 2-0 win.
Having passed to Real via Chelsea as a former Atlético player, it won't be the easiest of the starts for him tomorrow night, however.
A feeling of déjà-vu will also be on the cards for Julen Lopetegui, Real Madrid's newly-appointed gaffer. The former Spain national team coach has very sweet memories of Tallinn, howver; in 2012 he guided the Spanish U19 national team to the European title by beating Greece 1-0 at the A. LeCoq Arena at the end of the tournament organized by Estonia.
A successful appearance with Spain U21 team was the one made by Real Madrid striker Borja Mayoral, who defeated the Estonian U21 players 1-0 in September 2017. Marco Asensio, conversely, watched from the bench the 2-0 win in September 2015 in the same age category.
Going back to October 2008, Real's captain appearance frm the Golden Age of Spanish football of the Xavi and the Iniesta era was a young Sergio Ramos (22 at the time) who left Tallinn with a 3-0 win in the South Africa 2010 qualifiers. Then years on he is back in Tallinn to help Real lift another trophy in its attempt to catch up with bitter rivals Barcelona in the number of Supercups won (five, Real have won four so far).
Preparations for the game
The build-up to this game was quite different in terms of results. In a double-header against the two Milan legands, Inter and AC Milan, Atlético and Real obtained opposing final scores on Saturday: the 'Colchoneros' (Atlético) were defeated by Inter 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano whereas the 'Casa Blanca' (Real) won 3-1 against AC Milan with goals by Benzema, Bale and Mayoral.
It's just pre-season football, however; all four clubs will kick-off in their domestic leagues over the upcoming weekend. But if it was not the real thing, it was still very close to that. Real dominated another new version of AC Milan, whereas Atlético tried to fight back against Inter to no avail, thanks to outstanding goalkeeping and some great defending by the 'nerazzurri'.
No Cristiano Ronaldo, no party?
Finally there is no need to mention it, but when Cristiano Ronaldo completed his move to Juventus in July, many hearts in Tallinn were broken. 'CR7' will be the big absence from this event, something that Tallinnershad already experienced in 2009 when, the Madeira-born star, snubbed the friendly game organized in Tallinn by the Estonian FA in cooperation with the FPF, the Portuguese FA.
With the transfer market closing on Friday in both Spain and Italy, the optimists seeing another seismic move from La Liga to Serie A are ready to swear this will be Luka Modric's last game in a Real strip, since Inter are waiting him to join the Croatian troupe in Milan.
Time will tell. No one can touch Antoine Griezmann, however. The freshly-crowned World Champion, in fact, pledged his allegiance to Atletì before the World Cup had even kicked off and nixed all the rumours about a transfer to Barcelona in the process.
We will miss the Ballon D'Or holder, but there are plenty of fish in the sea for a great night at the A.Le Coq Arena.
Angelo Palmeri is a Tallinn-based freelance sports journalist and football writer who hails from Bari, Puglia, Italy. He is a co-founder and head trainer of Rumori Calcio, a football team founded in 2015, whose first team currently plays in the Estonian III. Liga Northern. Rumori Calcio's website is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte