Barcelona Overcome Spirited Sevilla to Clinch Super Cup in Tbilisi Epic

They came, they played, they entertained.

Months of frenzied hype was justified in the space of two hours last night, as Barcelona and Sevilla served up a nine-goal thriller at a packed and awestruck Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in the UEFA Super Cup.

A goal from substitute Pedro five minutes before the end of extra-time sealed a 5-4 victory for Barcelona, and triggered ecstatic scenes among the largely Barca-supporting Tbilisi crowd.

The late winner was harsh on Sevilla who, having taken an early lead before going 4-1 down, had clawed back a three-goal deficit in the second-half, a spirited performance that had the Barca-daft natives singing "Se-vi-lla", at least for a while.

Argentinian midfielder Ever Banega's delightful 3rd minute free-kick gave the underdogs an early breakthrough, but he was soon upstaged by his fellow countryman Lionel Messi.

Within four minutes of Sevilla's opener, Messi had equalised from an almost identical situation, clipping a 20-yard free-kick over the Sevilla wall and past the helpless Beto.

He soon added another to the collection, from a little further out and this time with Sevilla's goalkeeper not entirely blameless.

Barcelona then threatened to run away with the match as Rafinha, a surprise inclusion ahead of Pedro, tapped in for their third before half-time, and after the interval controversial Uruguayan Luis Suarez had a simple side-foot finish to put Barca 4-1 ahead with more than 35 minutes remaining.

Concerns that the contest was over didn't last long though as a powerful run and cross by Vitolo set up Sevilla captain Jose Antonio Reyes to volley home what appeared then a consolation.

The Andalusians had loftier ambitions though and further reduced their arrears in the 72nd minute when Jeremy Mathieu was penalised and booked for a foul in the box by Scottish referee Willie Collum, after which Kevin Gameiro slammed home the resulting spot-kick.

Sevilla were now just a goal behind and very much in the ascendancy. Messi had gone quiet, and so had Barca and their thousands of multi-national disciples in the stands.

Gameiro was replaced by Ciro Immobile in the 80th minute and the Italian striker had an immediate and sensational impact, crossing firm and low for Ukraine's Yevhen Konoplyanka to score a dramatic leveller.

Sevilla's players and staff could not hide their joy and neither could the Tbilisi crowd, who now knew that they were witnessing a classic...and that there could be an extra half hour of it.

Extra-time was nearly denied though as Messi, seeking a hat-trick of free-kicks, fired a 90th minute set-piece against the outside of Sevilla's upright, to a collective gasp from over 50,000 spectators.

The full-time whistle then arrived with the scores level, eight goals shared between the two Spanish La Liga clubs and a thoroughly satisfied crowd given a a couple of minutes to catch their breath.

In comparison to what had gone before, extra-time was fairly timid until the 115th minute.

Messi's free-kick struck the Sevilla wall initially, his follow-up effort then forced a smart save from Beto but the Sevilla goalkeeper could not smother before the on-rushing Pedro smashed the rebound into the roof of the net.

The Spaniard, apparently on the verge of leaving the club, celebrated emotionally, mobbed by his teammates and the first few rows of the West Stand.

Typical of Sevilla's spirit, and indeed Barcelona's defensive frailties, Unai Emery's underdogs still had opportunities to equalise in the closing stage.

First, full-back Coke headed wide from six yards under no pressure before Immobile's fizzing cross at an awkward height was diverted wide by Adil Rami from close range.

Sevilla's players looked dejected at the whistle, knowing they had come close to one of the greatest comebacks in modern times, against one of the greatest teams of any time.

Barca's 5th Super Cup triumph equals the record of AC Milan and although the bulk of the Tbilisi crowd cheered vociferously as Barcelona lifted the trophy and attempted to sing the club's anthem thereafter, the contribution of Sevilla to one of the greatest nights this storied stadium has ever seen, won't be forgotten.

Alastair Watt

12 August 2015 16:20