While Morocco won’t be getting the World Cup in 2026, on Sunday, they got a glimpse of global superstars Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho as the Spanish Super Cup came to the Stade Ibn Batouta in Tangier.
Sevilla made life difficult for Barcelona, opening the scoring after Luis Muriel broke with pace before laying the ball off to Pablo Sarabia who finished emphatically into the bottom left corner.
Pablo Machin had Sevilla well-drilled and unlikely to suffer the same humiliating capitulations as predecessor Vincenzo Montella. This was a lot closer to the 5-0 drubbing they suffered last time they met in last season’s Copa del Rey final.
But they couldn’t keep Messi quiet. He was lively throughout and it was his free-kick that eventually fell to Gerard Pique for the equaliser. He also laid the ball off for Ousmane Dembele for the winner but the goal was all the Frenchman’s: a fierce shot from outside the area and a worthy winner for any final.
Sevilla had a late chance to take the game to extra-time as Marc Andre Ter-Stegen took down former Barcelona man Aleix Vidal in injury time but he made amends when he saved the resultant penalty. Wissam Ben Yedder’s effort was tame and telegraphed.
Here are five things we learned:
1 Pablo Sarabia would be a steal at €18m
The midfielder is currently negotiating a new contract at Sevilla but currently has a release clause of just €18 million.
A host of Premier League clubs have spent more on players far more unproven this summer and, with the window closing, it's an opportunity missed for a number of clubs that could have used his flair and versatility.
His classy finish to open the scoring for Sevilla was no surprise for one of the outstanding individuals of their last campaign.
While his negotiating position isn't as strong after the closure of the English transfer window, a number of European clubs could do with his services.
With Champions League football returning to Schalke and Inter Milan, he'd be a solid addition as they look to bulk up their squads. And the threat could come closer to home: he'd be a good fit for Valencia, too.
2 VAR might help extinguish the constant squabbling in La Liga
As Pablo Sarabia's opener for Sevilla was incorrectly ruled offside by the linesman, it felt like normal service resumed.
Inevitably, there would be moaning headlines in the pages of Marca and AS and cries of conspiracy, declaring Spanish football well and truly back.
But that didn't happen because, with the help of video assistants, it was deemed the official made a mistake and the goal stood after all.
If that's a sign of things to come. VAR is as effective and successful as it was in the World Cup, we might finally see an end to the constant squabbling, accusations and paranoia. One can only dream.
3 Eleven Sports needs to sign up Terry Gibson
A generation of Spanish football fans from Britain will have grown up with the voices of Rob Palmer, Kevin Keatings, Gerry Armstrong and Terry Gibson soundtracking the magic of Ronaldinho and Raul, Pablo Aimar and Riquelme, Messi and Ronaldo.
The Super Cup was a slightly strange farewell for Spanish football on Sky Sports, covering the traditional curtain-raiser for a season they're not going to show.
Terry Gibson will be a loss in particular. The former Tottenham and Wimbledon striker is an expert on La Liga and one of the most insightful ex-footballers working in the game. His knowledge and ongoing analysis added a colour that few will be able to match.
It was recently announced that longstanding Sky commentator Kevin Keatings will continue to cover Spanish action at Eleven Sports. A good start but Terry Gibson needs to be the next big La Liga signing, and ideally get his superlative podcast with Jon Driscoll a new home.
4 No World Cup hangover for Lionel Messi
Argentina's stay in Russia was one to forget for their talisman. Looking miserable as it increasingly became clear they were incapable of challenging for the World Cup, he cut a frustrated figure.
For many, the first few weeks of a new season following a World Cup are an exercise in getting up to speed; understandable given the lack of pre-season practice and an especially-truncated break.
But not Messi. The biggest compliment you can pay to him is that he looked himself.
His exceptional first-half free-kick was barely kept out by Tomas Vaclik and Gerard Pique helped himself to the rebound. He could have had more assists if his teammates finished the chances he created and he demonstrated an irresistible telepathy with Jordi Alba throughout.
Messi enjoyed two of the best seasons of his career following his World Cup disappointments in 2010 and 2014, winning both the Champions League and La Liga each time. Could it happen again?
5 Let the Super Cup be a money-spinner
As well as the first Spanish Super Cup to be played over just one leg, this was the first on foreign soil, albeit a short hop across the strait of Gibralter to Tangier, Morocco.
While the traditional season-opener differs in terms of importance from country to country, using it as a money-spinner could be a lot worse.
The Premier League mooted the idea of a 39th game abroad and the European leagues — so desperate to replicate such riches — will surely have considered even greedier ideas.
With fanbases becoming increasingingly globalised, such an occasion gives foreign fans an opportunity to see football with a little more meaning than summer tours but without the domestic game losing anything of any value.
The Community Shield and Supercoppa Italiana could follow suit and it could be a fair compromise. But please, let this be as far as it goes.
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