Benzema leads Madrid against Barcelona in Super Cup final

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Karim Benzema is ready to put his World Cup disappointment behind him by winning yet another trophy with Real Madrid.

The Ballon d’Or holder, who was kept from playing for France at the World Cup in Qatar due to injury, will lead Madrid against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday.

“What happened at the World Cup is in the past. The most important thing is tomorrow’s game,” Benzema said on Saturday. “I’m ready, and I feel good in my mind and body. I’m focused solely on tomorrow’s game.

“Last year was a huge year for me. This time around I’ve had several injuries but I’m back on track now and I’m in good form. I feel great.”

Benzema reached the peak of his long and successful career last season when he proved critical to leading Madrid to a Champions League-Spanish league double. But leg injuries have limited his availability since then.

The striker, who turned 35 in December, is aiming for title No. 24 with Madrid.

The admittedly minor title has been charged with extra significance after Spain’s most storied clubs and fiercest rivals reached the final in Riyadh. Both needed penalty shootouts to edge their opponents in the semifinals; Madrid beat Valencia and Barcelona topped Real Betis.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a Madrid club record 450 goals, visited his old team to show them his support on Friday following his move to Saudi Arabian soccer.

If Carlo Ancelotti’s side wins, it will be their second title of the season after winning the UEFA Super Cup against Eintracht Frankfurt. They could also equal Barcelona's record 13 Spanish Super Cup trophies.

Xavi Hernández’s Barcelona is under more pressure to bring the Super Cup back to Spain. It would be its first title since the 2021 Copa del Rey under former coach Ronald Koeman. That was Lionel Messi’s 35th and and final title with Barcelona before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain.

Xavi’s is still building his reputation as a coach. The team has yet to perform to the level of the talent the club mortgaged its future for last summer to upgrade with Robert Lewandowski and others.

In clasicos against Madrid, coach Xavi has a record of one win and two losses, including a 3-2 loss in last season’s Spanish Super Cup semifinals.

“We have to win this final,” Xavi said. “When I was a player I felt the same pressure as now because we are Barça and that never changes.

“I can see a strong Real Madrid side and they have a psychological advantage as they have more experience in finals. We have to show our ambition and our desire, at last, to win a trophy.”

The Super Cup used to be between the Spanish league champion and the Copa del Rey winner. Now the runners-up in both competitions also participate in a Final Four tournament that was taken to Saudi Arabia in a lucrative deal for the Spanish federation. Madrid is participating as the league champion and Barcelona as the league runner-up.

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The Associated Press