The star is the goalkeeper

At the end of the first semifinal of the Super Cup in Riyadh, and seconds after saving Gayà’s decisive penalty, Thibaut Courtois offered a didactic lesson in football serenity by reviewing, one by one, the shots. They paraded through his mind as if he had Cavani in front of him, who scored the 0-1 with ease (“the last ones he threw to the right and that’s why I went to that side,” he acknowledged); Cömert, who sent the ball into the clouds; Ilaix Moriba, without distance and precise at 2-2, just like Hugo Guillamón at 3-3 before he touched the Valencian left-back.

Ter Stegen, in the center of the Barça crowd after eliminating Betis. | // AHMED YOSRI

“Gaya failed with Bono, from Sevilla, shooting to the left and before shooting against Betis in the middle,” the Belgian goalkeeper was recounting the map he used to guide Madrid to the final. “So it was clear to me that I was going to shoot to the middle or to the right and that’s why I didn’t throw myself to the bottom to the right, staying in the middle,” he later confessed without any fear of being wrong. And Courtois was not wrong, who before with a monumental save, worthy of a handball goalkeeper, had frustrated Valencia by repelling the shot of the young Fran Pérez in the 100th minute of extra time.

Without Courtois’ innate talent, together with the science that he has introduced into the study of penalties, the classic in Arabia against Barça would not have taken place. “No, we don’t train penalties,” confessed the Belgian goalkeeper. Needless. He does study and obsessively each of the shooters in front of him. Ter Stegen, too. They are crazy about their trade. Goalkeepers who have raised the level of that position to become references. Not only because of what they stop, which is a lot, also a symptom of the weakness of Madrid and Barça in their defensive structures, but because of what they intimidate.

Both dominate the stage with an indisputable personality because they do not feel vertigo when the ball falls at their feet –perhaps the Real Madrid player more than the Barça player– and they govern the territory in a dictatorial manner. Sometimes even with a simple look. Even Messi, the best on the planet, succumbed last season in the Parc des Princes to a penalty saved by Courtois, a unique guy (30 years old), capable of moving from Atlético to Chelsea before joining Madrid. “The truth is that we do not train batches. Some teammate shoots me a penalty. But nothing more. It’s about watching the videos of the pitchers”, confessed the white goalkeeper, capital in Madrid’s football story of the double. Benzema took the ‘Ballon d’Or’ for his extraordinary Champions and League last year. Although he would never have kissed that golden ball without the protection, sometimes supernatural, radiated by this gigantic goalkeeper (he measures 2 meters) that fills the entire goal. Above and below.

Ter Stegen, also 30 years old, but shorter (he measures 1.87 m), has reached his second golden age now. Just after living several months under suspicion, victim of his physical problems with that knee that did not allow him to fly as usual. But the German, who finally had a free summer without having to undergo any surgery, has been released this season. “I’ve been at a very good level for more than a year,” he confessed after being decisive with spectacular saves and, finally, being fundamental in the penalty shootout, stopping shots from Juanmi and William Carvalho.

“I would like not to have so much work”, admitted Ter Stegen, acknowledging that “lately we have been defending very well”. He was referring to the League where Barça has only conceded six goals in 16 games, almost the same as Intercity (3) in the Cup and Betis in the Super Cup (2) in just 180 minutes. Work accumulates for the German goal. Thanks to him, Xavi snorted with relief after being on the edge of the precipice. “We have a great goalkeeper, he made the difference. He took us to the final”, said the coach, happy to hold on to the steel hands of Marc, a superb signing of Andoni Zubizarreta (he arrived in the summer of 2014, after paying 12 million euros; a bargain then, even more bargain now). With those hands, Barça left the abyss and the first official classic will be fought tomorrow.

The star is the goalkeeper