On a scorching hot August summer evening in Skopje (Macedonia), the 2017 UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid competed against the UEFA Europa League winners Manchester United to determine who would win this year’s UEFA Super Cup.
UEFA took the decision in 2013 to move the Super Cup venue away from its traditional annual home of Monaco. Other recent host cities have included Prague, Cardiff, Tbilisi and Trondheim with the finals generally being played in stadia with relatively small capacities of between 20k-30k – a policy that appears aimed at giving an opportunity to cities that usually wouldn’t have a chance to host one of the more prestigious UEFA finals where much larger stadia are required due to the significantly higher demand for tickets from fans from the finalists as well as all of the Corporate fans! A notable exception to that was Cardiff which hosted this year’s Champions League Final, although that was played in the 70k capacity Millennium Stadium whereas the 2015 Super Cup Final was played in Cardiff’s City much smaller 30k stadium.
Indeed for this year’s Super Cup Final there didn’t appear to be significant numbers of fans travelling over from Spain or England to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – the trophy is typically seen as only slightly more important than a pre-season friendly match by many people. However given the international nature of the current game, there were plenty of avid Real Madrid and Man Utd fans in the region as well as general football-loving locals who were more than delighted to snap up the rare chance to see at close-hand some of the famous faces in world football such as Ronaldo and Bale. Indeed there were some 400 members of the Sofia Man Utd Supporters club who had travelled the 2-hour journey from neighbouring Bulgaria to be at the final ! UEFA also took a welcomed decision to keep the prices low to ensure a capacity crowd – prices ranged from the equivalent of 15 USD to 60 USD.
The final began with an entertaining opening ceremony with locals dressed in traditional Macedonian costumes accompanied by traditional folk music along with a number of Macedonian flags – a bright yellow sun with rays of sunshine from it on a red background – quite appropriate given that it was still over 90 degrees when the match kicked off at 20:45.
Real Madrid really should have won more comfortably than 2-1 given that they dominated much of the match including hitting the bar twice. Goals from Madrid’s Casemiro and Isco were followed by a goal from United’s Lukaku in the 62nd minute which gave the English team some hope in the closing stages of the match. Indeed they had a handful of chances to level the match in the last 20 mins but even with 7 minutes of injury time it was too little too late.
At the end of the match Man Utd manager (and former Real Madrid manager) Jose Mourinho gave his losers medal to a young child in the stand wearing a Man Utd shirt. Jose commented afterwards “When I win, the medals don’t usually mean that much to me so imagine how I feel if I lose and receive a medal !!! They just get lost in my house, but for that kid it will probably mean the moon and he will remember and value it forever.” A genuinely nice gesture to help someone less fortunate – something Macedonian-born Mother Teresa probably would have appreciated !