JEDDAH (Reuters) - Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos says the Spanish Super Cup has been given a boost by its new format and by being transported to Saudi Arabia, as his side prepare to face Atletico Madrid in Sunday’s final in Jeddah.
Real and Atletico each ended last season empty-handed and would not have qualified for the competition under its previous format as a season curtain-raiser between the Spanish champions and the Copa del Rey winners.
But both sides earned invites in a radical shake-up by the Spanish soccer federation, who will pocket a reported 120 million euros in a three-year deal to hold the competition in Saudi Arabia.
National soccer federation chief Luis Rubiales led a revamp of the Super Cup by expanding the contest between the league champions and Copa del Rey winners to a four-team format, and shifting the event from August to January and pledging to take it outside Spain.
The move to Saudi Arabia has nevertheless led to criticism from human rights groups as well as traditionalist fans of the competition in Spain.
Real outclassed Copa del Rey holders Valencia 3-1 and Atletico produced a stunning fightback to beat La Liga winners Barcelona 3-2, setting up a sixth competitive final between the two city rivals in eight years.
“The format has nothing to do with us, it’s the federation, but I think it has been for the best and the competition has gained in value,” Ramos told a news conference ahead of the final at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium.
“We have benefited from it this year because we are the guests, but perhaps we’ll be back next year too. We have been treated superbly, and if our clubs and federation can benefit from it too then it can’t be a bad thing.”
Atletico beat Real in a 2013 Copa del Rey showpiece, the 2014 Super Cup and the 2018 European Super Cup, while Real were the victors in the two sides’ 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals.
“They are a very uncomfortable opponent with an incredible coach and a fantastic team. They fight until all hope is lost, but we are prepared for that and we’re going to fight for our lives to win the trophy,” added Ramos.
“It’s vital to keep your ambition and Real Madrid have done that, we have maintained our hunger to compete in finals. We have earned the right to play another against a team that has also deserved to get there and our aim is to win it.”
Real will be without three of their most dangerous forwards in Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema through a combination of illness and injuries, while Atletico captain Koke is out for Diego Simeone’s side with a muscle problem.
Writing by Richard Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson