Connect in the back of the net

On my arrival to Skopje in Macedonia ahead of the Super Cup between Real Madrid and my team Manchester United, the taxi driver who drove me to my hotel said: “we still can’t believe our city is hosting the Super Cup. It is unbelievable.”

It was obvious as soon as I arrived, that this was a huge deal for the city. The game was advertised on every billboard and you could feel the excitement from the expectant locals as their home was about to briefly become centre stage of European football.

Perhaps the National Arena Philip II, in the heart of the Macedonian capital, with a capacity of 33 and a half thousand was not an obvious choice of venue for the meeting of the winners of Europe’s two elite competitions. It was the first time the country had hosted a UEFA club competition final.

It was also my first European final and, albeit not the biggest, I was looking forward to seeing how the Red’s would fare against the Champions League winners. I also was also optimistic about new signings Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof.

Around ten thousand fans from both clubs travelled to the game with the remainder allocated to a neutral section. Pre-match, there was a short ceremony which included a traditional Macedonian dance performance followed by a cover of Coldplay’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ in sign language.

On a hot, muggy evening both clubs selected strong sides. There was certainly a feeling that both sets of players were going out to win rather than not lose, which made for an entertaining encounter.

Although United lost 2-1, the fact we were able to get back into the match with Lukaku’s goal, and we created some glorious chances against an established Real Madrid side, leaves me optimistic about the new season. Matic was an instant hit and it looks like he could play a key role for the Europa League and League Cup champions this season.

The city did a fine job of welcoming supporters with a fan park in the Macedonia Square, accommodating locals and cheap prices. Like a youngster grasping the opportunity on their first team debut, Skopje delivered with a fine performance on the big stage.

 

Written by Christian Brooks

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