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Courtois helps Real reach Super Cup final

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Thibaut Courtois was the star for Real Madrid as they beat Valencia 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Riyadh on Wednesday to reach the Spanish Super Cup final.

The reigning Super Cup champions were below their best again amid a difficult start to 2023, but Courtois excelled, making crucial saves and then decisively denying Jose Gaya in the shootout after extra-time.

Madrid will go on to play either Barcelona or Real Betis, who play Thursday, in Sunday's final.

La Liga champions Madrid, facing the Spanish Cup runners-up, had chances to win the game within 90 minutes but needed Courtois to make a stunning reflex save from Fran Perez in extra-time.

Karim Benzema had sent Madrid ahead from the penalty spot but Gennaro Gattuso's side levelled at the start of the second half through Samuel Lino.

Valencia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili also made some excellent stops, including one from Vinicius Junior in stoppage time, forcing the additional period.

"Courtois is one of the best four or five goalkeepers in the world, (but) my goalkeeper made four or five very good saves," said Gattuso.

"We didn't have luck on our side, that's football. You have to have luck and today we didn't have it. We missed two penalties."

The first was fired over by Eray Comert, who also gave away the penalty converted by Benzema, and the second parried by Courtois, who read Gaya's intention to shoot down the middle.

"Obviously as a goalkeeper you have to study penalties," Courtois told Movistar.

"Gaya missed his last one against Sevilla on the left, and scored his last one down the middle against Betis, so we knew he was going to shoot there."

The Spanish Super Cup was first held in Saudi Arabia in 2020 in the current "final four" format — and will remain in the country until at least 2029, despite criticism over the hosts' human rights record.

Los Blancos started strongly, with Benzema producing a glorious dribble, but Cenk Ozkacar did well to cut him off.

Courtois kept out Edinson Cavani's header and then did enough to put off Toni Lato, who burst in from the right and appealed in vain for a penalty when he slipped.

Madrid took the lead shortly before half-time, when Eder Militao played a fine ball over the top to send Benzema through.

The forward was clumsily felled in the area by Comert and tucked away the resulting penalty, sending Mamardashvili the wrong way.

Courtois made a stunning save to deny Cavani before the break, although the veteran Uruguayan forward would have been ruled offside.

It was a warning for what was to come, with Lino scoring just seconds after the restart at the King Fahd International Stadium, escaping Lucas Vazquez to finish Lato's cross.

Madrid had further bad luck with injury, with Vazquez taken off hurt, while Militao was withdrawn after being hit in the head with a shot.

Vinicius, who had been quiet, should have won the game for Madrid in stoppage time but Mamardashvili denied him with his legs from close range.

It was his counterpart Courtois's turn to make a miraculous save as the clocked ticked down, showing sensational reflexes to deflect Perez's near-post effort to safety.

Cavani and Benzema both converted from the spot in the shoot-out but Comert missed and Luka Modric put Madrid ahead.

Los Blancos converted all four of their spot-kicks and did not need a fifth thanks to Courtois denying Gaya.

"We showed our qualities, so that the fans believe in us," said Valencia midfielder Andre Almeida, despite the defeat.

"We've given ourselves a lot of self-confidence, we're proud of our work and we have to continue like this."

By contrast Ancelotti admitted his team's performance was not the best, blaming the winter World Cup in Qatar.

"It has been a unique season with a World Cup in the middle," said the Italian.

"We had 14 players involved in the World Cup, so it's normal that around 20 days after it finished we can't be at a top level."

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