James Rodríguez
James Rodríguez celebrates his first goal for Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Atlético Madrid. Reuters

James Rodríguez had his first goal for Real Madrid cancelled out by Raul Garcia with less than three minutes remaining to leave the Spanish Super Cup tied at 1-1 after the first leg at the Bernabeu. Just three months after Atlético were left heartbroken by an injury-time equalizer and an extra-time onslaught form Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League, they again looked to have been undone by a late goal.

Having frustrated their local rivals with a typically disciplined and dogged performance for 80 minutes, Diego Simeone’s men went behind to a scrambled, deflected goal that opened the account for the World Cup’s Golden Boot winner. But Atlético again showed the incredible resilience that played such a big part in their La Liga title win last season to come back and get an equally unspectacular goal, when Garcia flicked in a corner from close range to leave the tie level heading to the Vicente Calderon on Friday.

There could be little debate that it was the just result on the balance of play. While last season’s Copa del Rey winners dominated possession, they created little. Carlo Ancelotti made two changes to the side that won the UEFA Super Cup last week, and there was certainly the sense that he is still working out his best formula after the arrivals of Rodríguez and Toni Kroos. A midfield trio of Kroos, Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso on this occasion lacked the attacking thrust to disrupt Atlético. Ahead of them, Cristiano Ronaldo struggled and at half-time was taken off in what may be a continuation of the injuries that blighted him at the end of last season and during this summer’s World Cup.

Atlético Madrid have seen a major overhaul of players since their defeat in Lisbon in May, with several of the key men from their La Liga winning side departing and a host of new arrivals welcomed in their place. Still, their approach under Diego Simeone remained the same. Content to allow Real Madrid to have the bulk of possession, Atlético put physical pressure on their opponents when they come up the field, leading to both Koke and one of the three new signings in the starting lineup, Guillherme Siqueira, to be booked in the opening 12 minutes.

Despite sitting back, it was the visitors which had the clearer chances and, indeed, the only efforts on target in the opening half. Saúl Ñíguez was gifted a chance by a slack Sergio Ramos touch just outside his own area, but the Spain Under-21 international fired a tame shot that Iker Casillas held. The Real Madrid goalkeeper was far less secure later in the half. After a disastrous World Cup and an error that led to Diego Godin’s goal in the Champions League final, the Madrid captain again showed his struggles commanding his area. After his side failed to clear a free-kick, Casillas punched the ball straight to Atlético’s biggest signing of the summer, Mario Mandzukic, who will be disappointed he failed to get the right trajectory on his attempted first-time lob and sent it straight into the grateful arms of the Madrid stopper.

In coming up against Atlético’s compact shape, the man with the most space to exploit was right-back Dani Carvajal, but the Spain international time and again failed to capitalize. A clear effort from Real Madrid did not arrive until the final five minutes of the period. With the same combination that provided Carlo Ancelotti’s men their opening goal in their UEFA Super Cup victory, Gareth Bale picked out Ronaldo with a cross, but on this occasion he headed disappointingly wide of the target. It was Ronaldo’s first real contribution of the contest, and also his last. In contrast to that contest in Cardiff, the Ballon d’Or winner looked less than sharp and was replaced by Madrid’s new star arrival.

Before Rodríguez made his mark, though, came a ratcheting up of the tension in a game that was never likely to be treated lightly by either side. Ramos should have seen red for striking Mandzukic in the head with his fist after both men were prone on the grass, while Siqueira was lucky not to have had his debut marked by a second yellow card.

With a little over 20 minutes remaining, Madrid should have been in front. Bale’s fiercely struck free-kick was blocked by new Atlético keeper Miguel Ángel Moyà straight to Kroos in front of goal, but the World Cup winner skied the ball high over the bar. Instead it was left to Madrid’s other major arrival to break the deadlock.

Kroos showed what he does best with a fine pass to get Carvajal in down the right of the penalty area, and this time the full-back found his target in the middle. While Miranda prevented Karim Benzema from turning it goalward, the ball fell kindly to Rodríguez, whose drilled low shot deflected in off substitute Cristian Ansaldi. The Colombian celebrated enthusiastically in front of his new adoring public and, with the momentum now firmly with the hosts, his goal looked destined to be the winner. Atlético had other ideas. Mario Suárez got the merest of touches to help on an in-swinging corner and Garcia continued to demonstrate his goal-scoring instincts with an instinctive finish.

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