Blue was the colour as the UEFA Super Cup was staged at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park tonight.
The impressive and extensive Super Cup branding which transformed the Belfast stadium’s appearance featured a few shades of blue.
And when the trophy was lifted at the end of the clash between the current UEFA Champions League holders and UEFA Europa League champions it was done so by the captain of the team in blue – Chelsea.
Thomas Tuchel’s boys from west London narrowly edged their Spanish opponents Villarreal, who had defeated Manchester United on penalties back in May to claim the Europa League trophy, their first major silverware.
Chelsea secured the UEFA Super Cup for a second time in their history thanks to a 6-5 penalty shootout win. It was required after the game ended 1-1 after 120 minutes.
Spanish keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who came on as a sub for Chelsea deep into extra time, was ultimately the hero as he saved two penalties during the shootout.
Villarreal stopper Sergio Asenjo superbly saved Chelsea’s first spot kick in the shootout – it was taken by Kai Havertz – but he was subsequently beaten by fellow Spaniards Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso wearing Chelsea blue as well as Mason Mount, Jorginho, Christian Pulisic and Antonio Rudiger.
Gerard Moreno, Pervis Estupinan, Moi Gomez, Daniel Raba and Juan Foyth scored penalties for Villarreal, however Kepa stopped Aissa Mandi’s and Villarreal captain Raul Albiol’s spot kicks to help his side claim the victory.
Although Chelsea had most of the possession and created more chances in the biggest club game ever staged in Northern Ireland, Villarreal proved to be tricky and dangerous opponents.
The 13,000 fans out of nearly 40,000 applicants who managed to get a ticket were treated to some slick football at times – and the crowd provided a lively atmosphere throughout.
Both clubs each had 2000 official fans at the match, however the bulk of the ‘neutrals’ who purchased tickets via UEFA were definitely of a Blue hue.
In the early exchanges, as both sets of fans raised their voices in song, The Blues were the dominant force, however the Yellow Submarine eventually clawed their way into it.
Decent efforts from Rudiger and Alonso were cleared by the Spanish team’s defence before Asenjo pushed away a stinging Timo Werner shot and N’Golo Kante produced a fine strike which flew just wide.
Chelsea deservedly took the lead on 27 minutes thanks to a sweeping move which eventually saw Havertz fire the ball into the area where Hakim Ziyech was on hand to cleverly clip it past the keeper into the net.
Villarreal sought a quick response. Alberto Moreno shot past the post before Chelsea stopper Edouard Mendy made a solid save from Boulaye Dia.
As half-time approached the La Liga side almost levelled when Alfredo Moreno produced a thumping volley from five yards which cannoned off the underside of the bar. He should have scored.
After the break Villarreal pushed forward and hit the woodwork again. This time it was Spain striker Gerard Moreno who saw a left foot strike clip the base of the post.
The Spanish side continued to press and Mendy pushed away a drive from Villarreal substitute Estupinan.
It was no real surprise when they equalised on 73 minutes through Gerard Moreno. The striker played a clever one-two with Dia and neatly slotted the ball past Mendy. It was a lovely finish and it sent the already noisy Villarreal fans into raptures.
Chelsea substitute Mount had a speculative shot which was gathered at the near post by Asenjo and then Villarreal threatened on a couple of occasions before Alonso fired into the side netting at the end of regulation time.
In extra time it was cagey to begin with before Chelsea substitute Pulisic drilled a shot just wide and at the start of the second period Mount forced another good save out of Asenjo.
Chelsea started the game with Kante as captain but he left the field after 65 minutes and substitute Azpilicueta, who had captained the Londoners to Champions League glory in May, was the man on hand to raise the Super Cup high into the Belfast sky following the dramatic penalty shoot-out.
The match was broadcast live to more than 200 countries and TV viewers around the globe were treated to a fine spectacle featuring lots of skilful play and goalmouth action against the backdrop of a sea of blue. It was an entertaining curtain raiser to the new season.