0-1, Giuly (min. 44)
Barca took a big step to ensuring their first trophy of the season by beating Espanyol 0-1 in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Montjuic tonight. The decisive second leg will be played on Sunday at the Nou Camp.
Ludovic Giuly grabbed some vital goals last season, including the decisive one at the San Siro and he kicked off this campaign with a high octane performance that included the game's only goal, echoing his scoring feat in the same fixture last season. The French winger got the game's only goal, but Barca could have added a few more but for a series of fine stops from Espanyol keeper Gorka.
Rijkaard's sticks to winning formula
Frank Rijkaard stuck with what he knew for the start of the new season, backing his league and European Cup winning players to continue where they left off last season and leaving new signings Thuram, Zambrotta and Gudjohnsen to wait their turn on the bench. Sylvinho got the nod at left back and Oleguer started on the right, whilst with Edmilson missing, Motta provided the muscle in midfield alongside Xavi and Deco and Eto'o, Ronaldinhoa and Giuly provided the threat up front.
A cagey first quarter of an hour saw few chances, though the home team took more of the initiative and Fredson, their best player in the first half saw a chance on 10 minutes which he blasted over. Nine minutes later, Espanyol had their best chance when Zabaleta broke down the right and cut back for Rufete whose close range effort was well blocked by the impressive Victor Valdes. Both teams were in truth looking a bit ring rusty, though Ronaldinho began to figure more and Fredson again threatened on 38 minutes with a free kick that whizzed just over.
Giuly again decisive in the Super Cup
Barca upped the rhythm in the last few minutes of the half and Eto'o and Xavi combined well on 39 minutes for the Spanish midfielder to get in a shot that was well saved by Gorka. Five minutes later though, there was no escape for Espanyol as Ronaldinho slipped a magisterial pass through their defence for Giuly to latch onto and fire in for the team's first official goal of the campaign.
The second half started slowly, with the substitutions being the most notable events. Pandiani and Coro replaced Tamudo and Rufete for Espanyol, whilst Giuly made way for Messi who made his re-appearance in a Barca shirt on 66 minutes after a five month lay-off following his injury against Chelsea last March.
Espanyol were looking especially lacking in match fitness and were paying the price for their first half exertions, whereas Barca were looking stronger as the game went on and when Iniesta replaced Xavi on 71 minutes they began to look again like the team that had so dominated domestically and in Europe last season.
Five clear chances
The ten minutes following Iniesta's appearance saw Barca play their best football of the game and create five clear chances and only some good keeping and some admittedly wild shooting prevented more goals going up on the Montjuich scoreboard. First Eto'o fired over after a good move with Ronaldinho, then on 76 minutes Gorka stopped a right footed Messi effort. A minute later a brilliant move from Deco set up Ronaldinho only for the keeper to again deny Barca a second.
Oleguer Presas had the next chance, steaming in on the right to meet a neat through ball from Eto'o, but the local lad shot high and wide. Finally, Messi again had a good chance, but his weak shot was easily stopped by Gorka.
In the final minutes, Gianluca Zambrotta made his official debut, coming on for Carles Puyol and looking as calm and collected as is to be expected from a player with such experience. Finally, in the dying seconds Thiago Motta had the game's last chance with a well struck free kick from the left.
Tonight's will be the twelfth Spanish Super Cup Barca have contested and a win would be their seventh, equalling the record Real Madrid currently hold. The first title was won in 1983-84, beating Athletic Bilbao 1-3 and 0-1, there then followed three successive wins with Johan Cruyff in the manager's seat (1991-92, 1992-93 and 1994-95) and a win in 1996-97 with Sir Bobby Robson (1996-97). Last year, Rijkaard's all conquering team beat Betis 0-3 and 1-2.
Barca kick of the 2006-7 season this evening with the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against current Spanish Cup holders and city neighbours Espanyol at the Montjuich Stadium.
Rijkaard's men compete for their first title of the season in the first ever all-Barcelona Spanish Super Cup, with the first leg kicking off at 22.00 tonight and the home game at the Nou Camp set for Sunday.
Team News: After a successful pre-season, in which Barca were unbeaten in all five games, the team face their first real test of the season with all the three new signings - Eidur Gudjohnsen, Liliam Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta - in the squad, though it seems likely that Rijkaard will at least start the game with the block of players who served him so well last season. Ronaldinho should start and despite a relatively quiet World Cup, his performance in pre-season, which saw him notch up four goals in pre-season, his fourth campaign at the club promises to be as entertaining as ever for the fans.
Espanyol: New boss Ernesto Valverde has brought in four summer signings: Lacruz (Athletic Club), Rufete (València), Moha (Osasuna) and Jonatas (Flamengo). Only the first two will be available tonight though, with Moha out injured and Jonatas just back from Brazil. Riera is also back at the club after his loan spell at Manchester City, but Valverde seems likely to keep faith with the base of last season's cup-winning team, with Tamudo, De La Peña and Luis Garcia the team's main reference points.