Marc-Andre ter Stegen was Barcelona's hero as he saved two penalties in a shootout to take them past Real Sociedad and into the final of the Spanish Super Cup.
In an evenly fought first half it was Barcelona who made the most of the chance that came their way, Frenkie De Jong superbly reaching backwards to flick Antoine Griezmann's header beyond Alex Remiro.
Though it certainly shouldn't take away from what was an excellent performance by the Dutchman, De Jong would ultimately have a sizeable hand in Real Sociedad drawing level as a cross from the left flank hit his trailing hand. Mikel Oyarzabal made no mistake from the spot, bringing the game into a state of parity it would remain in until the shootout though the introduction of Adnan Januzaj brought life to the closing minutes of the contest.
Twice it appeared the former Manchester United prospect might win the tie for La Real, first when he forced an excellent one-handed stop from Ter Stegen and then when his 119th minute free-kick hammered back off the crossbar.
In a remarkably low quality shootout De Jong, Griezmann and Willian Jose all missed the target but Ter Stegen made two superb saves from penalty specialists Jon Bautista and Oyarzabal to secure a 3-2 win for Barcelona in the shootout and passage to the final, where they will play the winner of Thursday's match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao.
De Jong and Pedri take on Messi burden
Naturally Barcelona missed Lionel Messi just as any team would miss the greatest player of his generation, particularly when his replacement Martin Braithwaite is not even the greatest Danish striker of his generation (Nicklas Bendtner is only three years older). To be fair to Braithwaite he showed good movement to dart to the front post and meet a cross from the right wing, flashing a header just wide.
In Messi's absence what Barcelona needed was some semblance of the link play that he provides between midfield and attack. Again there are no players who do what the Argentine does but if you were picking a player who might theoretically be able to replicate some of the greatest player on the planet's role, Griezmann might be that man. But for too much of the first half he was too distant from the action, leaving the burden on youngsters Pedri and De Jong
There were the slightest of flashes, occasions where Griezmann flexed his creative muscles and he ended up with an assist for De Jong although the cross asked a great deal of the Dutch midfielder, but in truth it was the midfielders who rose to the occasion. Pedri in particular seemed to relish the burden to get Barcelona ticking. At times he seemed determined to draw pressure his way just so he could beat it and get his team-mates attacking a disorganized defense.
De Jong, meanwhile, looks an altogether more dynamic player than the one who shone at Ajax as a deeper creator. Here he was driving beyond Brathwaite in exceptional fashion, particularly in the 52nd minute when he showed a smart turn of pace to drive into the box. It took a superb recovery tackle from Andoini Gorosabel to deny him a penalty. Indeed, so good was the recovery that he actually managed to earn La Real a free-kick. It was a rare occasion where the team in blue and white got the better of De Jong.
Oyarzabal's penalty hot streak iced
Inevitably there are few better opportunities to score than from a penalty for reasons that obviously do not need explaining. However, at some stage even the best are supposed to miss. Not Oyarzabal, who extended his hot streak to 17 from 17 as he sent Ter Stegen the wrong way with an impudence that seems to be tempting fate against one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
15 - @RealSociedadEN's Mikel Oyarzabal has scored more penalties without missing one than any other LaLiga player since the start of 2015/16 in all competitions (15, 12 in @LaLigaEN, 2 in Copa del Rey and 1 in #SupercopaDeEspana). Specialist. pic.twitter.com/aVQGYisd2n— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 13, 2021
And yet why shouldn't Oyarzabal approach his spot kicks with a bit of swagger? Not only does he have the track record to match it but throughout this semifinal it was clear that he was in the zone. A 50 yard drive early in the first half set Alexander Isak up for a fine chance that took good goalkeeping from Ter Stegen to deny him. The young Swedish striker was relishing the opportunities provided for him by Oyarzabal and it took one of several excellent interventions from Ronald Araujo to deny him just before the half hour.
Isak was not alone as Oyarzabal laid on an early chance for Portu whilst creating a shot from himself. Just as Barcelona had needed key players to step up in Messi's absence so was there greater pressure on La Real's forwards to fend for themselves. The captain on the night stepped up in superb fashion.
Strictly speaking the 23-year-old's hot streak remains intact - efforts in shootouts do not count towards statistics - but it was as strong an indication of Ter Stegen's excellence both tonight and throughout recent seasons that the German managed to deny this penalty taker par excellence. Oyarzabal's penalty was not as good as his effort in normal time but it still took every inch of the German's giant frame to deny him, an effort that seemed to spook Willian Jose, who went too far wide with his spot kick and hit the post.
Ronald Araujo: For just a few million dollars Barcelona look to have found a very solid center back in the 21-year-old Uruguayan, who excelled in the second half when he dropped in behind to snuff out the danger on more than one occasion. RATING: 8
Nacho Monreal: He turns 35 next month and it is nearly two years since he was moved on by an Arsenal hierarchy that thought his legs were about to go. There are few more effective ways to prove them wrong than holding Ousmane Dembele at bay into extra time and leading his team in tackles with five after 110 minutes. RATING: 8