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Madrid will have to do without Ronaldo for Super Cup 2nd leg – Barca left floundering as gap to Real grows

MADRID, Aug 15, (AFP): Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane expressed his anger on Tuesday at a five-game ban handed to Cristiano Ronaldo for pushing a referee after being sent-off against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup. Madrid hold a 3-1 first leg lead going into the second leg against their fierce rivals on Wednesday, but will have to do without Ronaldo. The World Player of the Year was controversially shown a second yellow card for diving on Sunday and handed an extra four-game ban for a light push on referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea after being shown the 10th red card of his career.

“We are very annoyed,” said Zidane. “When you look at everything that happened, to think Cristiano won’t play five games with us … it is infuriating.” Madrid’s appeal against the red card, which could reduce the ban from five games to four, will be held before the game on Wednesday. “The (appeals) committee will meet and I hope they look well upon it,” added Zidane. “Cristiano is annoyed because he wants to play and when he doesn’t play, he isn’t happy.”

Ronaldo was on the field for just 24 action-packed minutes on Sunday as he was only introduced as a second-half substitute after a curtailed pre-season due to his participation in the Confederations Cup with Portugal. He made a huge impact with a stunning strike to put Madrid into a 2-1 lead 10 minutes from time, but unwisely picked up his first yellow card for removing his shirt in celebration. And two minutes later he was dismissed as he fell inside the area under pressure from Samuel Umtiti.

“Cristiano’s ban is excessive,” added Madrid defender Dani Carvajal. Should Ronaldo’s appeal not be upheld, he will miss Madrid’s first four La Liga games of the season against Deportivo la Coruna, Valencia, Levante and Real Sociedad.

However, Zidane insisted he is not desperate to add to his forward line before the transfer window closes on Aug 31, despite selling strikers Alvaro Morata and Mariano Diaz this summer. Real have been linked for months with a move for Monaco’s 18-year-old sensation Kylian Mbappe, but look set to be beaten to the Frenchman’s signature by free-spending Paris Saint-Germain.

“Anything can happen between now and Aug 31, but what I can say is that I am very happy with the players I have,” said Zidane.

Still reeling from having Neymar snatched away by Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona started their season badly in need of reasons for optimism, but instead got a view of the growing gap they face to catch rivals Real Madrid.

Barring a sensational Barca comeback in Wednesday’s second leg at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu, Real will pick up a seventh trophy in less than two years under the Frenchman.

In a familiar tale from last season, it was Madrid’s strength in depth that made the difference as Cristiano Ronaldo and Marco Asensio came off the bench to fire stunning strikes into the top corner in the final 10 minutes to swing the tie Real’s way.

Even a controversial red card for Ronaldo eight minutes from time couldn’t derail Real.

The fact Zidane didn’t feel the need to rush the World Player of the Year back from the start spoke volumes of his confidence in Madrid’s reserves.

By contrast, Barca seem more dependant on the brilliance of Lionel Messi than ever in the wake of Neymar’s departure.

The Argentine led his side back into the game and scored from the penalty spot after Gerard Pique’s own goal had given Madrid the lead.

Midfielder Sergio Busquets piled the growing pressure on the club’s board by insisting they “must” sign top quality players to supplement Barca’s ageing squad, whilst new coach Ernesto Valverde said he wanted “the best team” by the time the transfer window shuts on Aug 31.

“Signings now” ran the front cover of Barcelona-based sports daily Sport on Monday.

Yet, Barca’s poor record in the transfer market in recent years was exposed once more when Asensio blasted home as the game entered stoppage time.

A disagreement over the instalments in which the Catalans pay the paltry four million euro fee it would take to sign him from Mallorca three years ago saw Madrid nip in to seal the signature of the brightest prospect in Spanish football.

Now at just 21, Asensio, who scored in June’s Champions League final, has now also netted in his last two outings against Barcelona.

“Asensio represents the big difference between Madrid and Barca,” said Madrid sports daily Marca.

“One wins titles, the other loses them. One signs young players with all the talent in the world and the other loses the one who they said would be Messi’s successor.”

The turning tide of Spanish football was even represented in the stands at the Camp Nou.

Any ‘El Clasico’ meeting between Madrid and Barca has become a world event with fans travelling from all over the globe to attend.

However, with tourist season at its peak and many locals on holiday during August, Madrid weren’t greeted with the usual hostility.

Instead, thousands of white shirts were dotted around the Camp Nou and Madrid’s goals were cheered.

“It’s strange what happened with the fans. It’s not nice to see them cheer for the opponent,” said Barca captain Andres Iniesta.

One Catalan TV commentator even remarked “the Camp Nou seems like the Bernabeu” when Ronaldo curled home Real’s second to shrieks of delight.

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