SKOPJE: A delightful goal by Isco proved the difference as Real Madrid survived a Manchester United fightback to win 2-1 and lift the UEFA Super Cup in the Macedonian capital Skopje on Tuesday.
Casemiro put the reigning European champions in front on 24 minutes on a steamy summer’s night in the Balkans and Isco doubled their lead seven minutes into the second half after a one-two with Gareth Bale.
The gulf in class between Madrid — for whom Cristiano Ronaldo appeared as a late substitute — and Europa League winners United that Jose Mourinho had feared was all too evident and it looked like the Spaniards would go on to win by a wider margin.
But Romelu Lukaku pulled one back just past the hour mark, which sparked a big improvement from the Premier League club in the final stages.
However, it was to no avail as Zinedine Zidane’s side won this trophy for the second year running and the fourth time overall. It is the eighth time in nine years that a Spanish club has won the Super Cup.
“It is all down to hard work. We know there is a lot of talent in this team and there is so much hunger too, they always want more,” said Zidane after lifting more silverware. “Today was an almost perfect match, and the first half was spectacular.”
On the other hand, United coach Mourinho insisted that his team had emerged from their trip to Skopje for the UEFA Super Cup reinforced despite the scoreline.
“I always say the Champions League is one thing and the Europa League is another, and the Champions League winner obviously has a different potential,” said ex-Real coach Mourinho. “So for us to come here and do the positive things we did, I think we have to keep that positive feeling into the new season, and into the Champions League in September. I think this Super Cup was a great experience for us.”
Mourinho, who gave away his runners-up medal to a young fan, sought solace in the fact that the Old Trafford club will not need to come up against Madrid in the Premier League.
“We have top teams with different qualities. There are no replicas of [Luka] Modric, [Toni] Kroos, Isco or Casemiro,” he said.
While Ronaldo started on the bench for Madrid having only commenced pre-season training at the weekend, Bale was included in the first XI.
United boss Mourinho caused a stir on Monday when he claimed he would make a bid to take the Welshman to Old Trafford if he were not a starter at the Philip II Arena, but after the match the 54-year-old told BT Sport that it was “game over” as far as that move was concerned.
Despite the presence of £75 million signing Lukaku up front, with Paul Pogba behind, United often gave the impression that they could do with some extra inspiration in the final third.
Having missed much of last season’s run-in due to injury, Bale is fit again, but it was Casemiro who emerged as the unlikely main threat going forward for Real in the first half.
The Brazilian midfielder almost opened the scoring in the 16th minute, getting in front of Matteo Darmian to head a Toni Kroos corner against the bar from six yards.
The breakthrough came just past the midway point in the first half as Dani Carvajal was afforded the time to flight a ball over Victor Lindelof — another United debutant — for Casemiro to stretch and volley past David de Gea.
Mourinho sent on Marcus Rashford for Jesse Lingard at the start of the second half, yet it was at the other end that the chances kept coming.
De Gea repelled a Kroos piledriver but there was nothing he could do to stop Isco making it 2-0 in the 52nd minute.
Surrounded by red shirts just inside the area, Isco escaped their attentions by playing a one-two with Bale before coolly finishing past De Gea.
Bale then struck the bar, and all this was going on without Ronaldo, who appeared from the bench to warm-up, raising hysterical cheers from the sizeable number of locals with sympathies for the Spanish side.
United had a mountain to climb and were not helped when Lukaku blazed over after Keylor Navas pushed a Pogba header into his path.
Lukaku did not make the same mistake twice, converting the rebound when a Nemanja Matic drive was not convincingly dealt with by Navas, but the goalkeeper redeemed himself with a vital late save to deny Rashford.
And Real, with Ronaldo on for the closing stages, held out.