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How Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga gamble paid off with Super Cup win on top night for Windsor Park

Chelsea 1-1 Villarreal (Chelsea win on penalties)

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Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea lifts the Uefa Super Cup at Windsor Park

Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea lifts the Uefa Super Cup at Windsor Park

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Thomas Tuchel during the game at Windsor Park

Thomas Tuchel during the game at Windsor Park

PA

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Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea lifts the Uefa Super Cup at Windsor Park

After a summer of them in the European Championships, the Super Cup at Windsor Park was always going to go to a penalty shoot-out. The only surprise was that an English side won it!

And perhaps an even bigger shock was that Kepa Arrizabalaga was the Chelsea hero after sitting on the bench for most of the night.

Blues boss Thomas Tuchel brought the Spaniard on for Edouard Mendy in the final minute of extra-time and it proved to be an inspired substitution as Kepa saved twice to give Chelsea a 6-5 spot-kicks triumph after a 1-1 draw in which Hakim Ziyech and Gerard Moreno had scored for each side.

Yes, that’s the same Kepa who refused to come off in the 2019 League Cup final against Manchester City when then Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri wanted Willy Caballero on for the penalties which the Stamford Bridge outfit lost.

What a start to Tuchel’s career in England, having been appointed in January. Champions League in May, European Super Cup in August. Two trophies in eight months and still Romelu Lukaku to come in.

In its history, Windsor has staged some big and important club fixtures but last night’s encounter went straight to the top of the charts for glamour and prestige.

This was the Super Cup final, after all, third on the list of Uefa’s priority club games behind the Champions League and Europa League deciders won by Chelsea and Villarreal back in May.

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With Uefa branding, upgrades to the pitch and fresh licks of paint all over the joint, Windsor was transformed as 13,000 poured in to see the world-class footballers on the field. The circus had come to town and while some in the Irish FA have acted like clowns down the years, hosting this occasion was a triumph for them with Northern Ireland being showcased to millions across the globe.

This was a night when people could feel proud, none more so than Craig Stanfield’s family. Craig sadly passed away last year but was instrumental in the IFA’s successful bid for the Super Cup final.

While thousands of Chelsea and Villarreal supporters flew in from England’s capital and the east of Spain, most of the fans at Windsor were from Northern Ireland. Old, young and some in between.

What a moment for kids to see their Chelsea heroes in the flesh for the first time, like 11-year-old Caitlyn Topping from the village of Laurencetown and 16-year-old Leo Callaghan from Keady. They weren’t alone. Memories of a lifetime.

Chelsea were last in Northern Ireland in the summer of 1999 when they played Omagh Town in aid of the Omagh Bomb Appeal Fund and to lift spirits in a town left heartbroken and shattered after a Real IRA bomb killed 29 people and injured over 200 more almost a year before.

When Chelsea enjoyed their first Super Cup success in 1998, they were a different club. The arrival of Roman Abramovich and his billions changed everything though while they have won multiple Champions League titles, Premier League crowns, FA Cups and League Cups since, they lost in the 2012, 2013 and 2019 Super Cup clashes.

They changed that record in Belfast, much to the delight of the massed ranks in blue who were in full voice by the end. At the start of the evening it was the Villarreal fans in the Kop making all the noise.

Tuchel didn’t have his strongest side out but N’Golo Kante was in typical inspiring form, racing all over Windsor like a terrier let off his lead. He was everywhere. What a player.

He’s won the World Cup with France, titles with Leicester and Chelsea and last night as captain was given the honour of carrying the gleaming European Cup out before the match. Fitting.

Chelsea started on top with Sergio Asenjo saving from Timo Werner, then scrambling as Kante fired wide. On 27 minutes he was beaten after a classy pass from Marcos Alonso offered Kai Havertz an opportunity to cross, superbly picking out Ziyech who scuffed his shot into the turf, over the Villareal No.1 and into the middle of the net.

If the finish was a touch fortunate, the creativity prior to it was class.

Football can be a rollercoaster and as high as Ziyech was scoring the opener, he came back down to earth with a bump, literally, just before the break, injuring his shoulder and having to be replaced. The game giveth and the game taketh away...

Suddenly Villarreal found an extra gear and Chelsea lost their way. In first-half injury time former Liverpool player Alberto Moreno smashed a volley against the crossbar from close range. Up until then, an effort from Boulaye Dia, well saved by Mendy, was their only attacking contribution.

Moments before, Tuchel had been booked for justifiably protesting a harsh yellow card on Antonio Rudiger. The game was heating up.

Early in the second period the Europa League winners struck the woodwork again with Gerard Moreno denied by the fingertips of Mendy. Villarreal were flying forward and Chelsea’s defence needed to stand firm.

What they didn’t need to do was give the ball away as Rudiger did in the 73rd minute. Within seconds after a clever flick from Dia, Gerard Moreno had levelled.

Extra-time came and went with Chelsea substitutes Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount going close and Kepa’s late arrival.

Havertz’s penalty was saved. Then Cesar Azpilicueta, Alonso, Mount, Jorginho, Pulisic and Rudiger were spot on.

For Villarreal, Gerard Moreno, Pervis Estupinan, Moi Gomez, Raba and Juan Foyth hit the net but Mandi and captain Raul Albiol were denied by Kepa, who will never forget his glory night at Windsor Park.

A super ending for him and Chelsea. The Premier League starts tomorrow night. With Tuchel at the helm, they will be contenders.

CHELSEA: Mendy (Kepa 119), Zouma (Christensen 66), Chalobah, Rudiger, Hudson-Odoi (Azpilicueta 82), Kante (Jorginho 65), Kovacic, Alonso, Ziyech (Pulisic 43), Havertz, Werner (Mount 65).

Subs not used:
Thiago Silva, Abraham, Loftus-Cheek, Chilwell, James, Emerson.

VILLARREAL: Asenjo, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza (Estupinan 58), Trigueros (Gomez 70), Capoue (Gaspar 70), A Moreno (Morlanes 85), Pino (Mandi 91), G Moreno, Dia (Raba 86).

Subs not used: Alcacer, Iborra, Rulli, Cuenca, Pena, Nino.

Referee: Sergey Karasev (Russia)

Man of the match: G Moreno

Match rating: 7/10


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