Atletico stun Lionel Messi and Barcelona in Saudi Arabia to tee up Spanish Super Cup final with Real Madrid

Diego Simeone's side rally late on in Jeddah to win 3-2 and advance to Sunday's showpiece

epa08115457 Barcelona FC's Lionel Messi (R) in action against Atletico Madrid FC's Saul Niguez (L) during the Spanish Super Cup semi final match between Barcelona FC and Atletico Madrid FC at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 09 January 2020.  EPA/STR
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Atletico Madrid rebounded late against Barcelona in Saudi Arabia on Thursday night to prevail 3-2 and set up a Spanish Super Cup final derby with Real Madrid.

Diego Simeone’s side, without a win against the Spanish champions in nine matches, triumphed in an absorbing last-four contest at a near-capacity King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, courtesy of goals from Koke, Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa. The latter two arrived in the final nine minutes.

Initially a goal down, Barcelona had bounced back to lead 2-1 at one stage, but could not prevent Atletico’s rally in the closing stages. The capital club now face city rivals Madrid at the same venue on Sunday, in a repeat of the 2015/16 Uefa Champions League final.

Barcelona's Luis Suarez, left, fights with Atletico Madrid's Stefan Savic, center, during the Spanish Super Cup semifinal soccer match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at King Abdullah stadium in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Second-best for much of the semi-final, Atletico surprisingly found themselves in front just 20 seconds into the second half. Koke, on at the interval for Hector Herrera, was played in by Correa and coolly slotted past the advancing Neto.

However, Barcelona turned the match around quickly, first through Lionel Messi’s fine finish on 51 minutes, and then once Antoine Griezmann had headed home a rebound after Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak saved well from Luis Suarez. In between, Messi had a goal disallowed for handball, following a contentious VAR call.

VAR would prove the scourge of Barcelona again in the 73rd minute, when Gerard Pique had a close-range effort chalked off for offside. Replays showed the Spanish defender had just about strayed beyond the Atletico backline.

Then, as Barcelona looked to be running rampant, Atletico struck back. First, Morata kept his cool from the spot after Neto had upended Vitolo as the substitute bore down on goal. Minutes later, Morata turned provider, sending Correa through on goal, leaving the Argentine to squeeze his shot past Neto to send the Atletico bench wild in celebration.

Barcelona pushed for another equaliser, but could not find it. Two-time winners of the Super Cup, Atletico have a chance of a third, in this expanded edition, come Sunday.