Carlo Ancelotti has responded to strong claims made by Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin that Real Madrid get preferential treatment from referees, insisting corruption no longer exists in football.

In a statement published on Atletico's official website on Friday, Gil Marin claimed Real are involuntarily favoured by referees and have created an atmosphere that influences officials.

Gil's strong remarks came a day on from Atletico's 3-1 extra-time loss to fierce rivals Real in their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie, which they led for an hour until Rodrygo cancelled out Alvaro Morata's goal.

Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior won the tie for the hosts at the Santiago Bernabeu in the additional period, after Stefan Savic was sent off by man in the middle Cesar Soto Grado for two bookable offences.

However, Atletico felt Real midfielder Dani Ceballos should also have been dismissed for bringing down Thomas Lemar when already on a yellow card and with the visitors a goal to the good.

"Anyone who observes [the situation] from the outside can see that for decades the same thing almost always happens," Gil Marin added in his statement.

"Unfortunately it no longer surprises anyone, it is not news. It's very obvious and you just have to remember the story."

Ancelotti was reluctant to get involved when asked about Gil Marin's comments at a pre-match press conference previewing Sunday's LaLiga match with Real Sociedad, but he did add suggestions of referees favouring certain teams are wide of the mark.

"I have not read the comments, though I have heard something," Ancelotti said. "I don't want to talk about it. The only thing I can say is that my character is my character and I respect to all opinions.

"It was a competitive match, an even match. I think for our part we deserved to win. The rest are matters I won't talk about."

Asked if he feels referees in general are doing a good job, Ancelotti said: "It is very complicated for them. It seemed that with VAR it could help. There is no longer talk about offside, for example. 

"But everything that is not objective can create controversy. The corruption is gone compared to the past. In general, refereeing has improved a lot across Europe."

Madrid now turn focus back to LaLiga and a showdown with third-placed La Real, who lost to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey in midweek but are on a five-game winning run in the league.

"La Real are playing very well and have good dynamics," said Ancelotti, whose side trail leaders Barcelona by three points.

"We have to improve certain parts. After what happened against Atleti, it is important to play a complete match offensively and defensively."

Karim Benzema suggests Real Madrid must find earlier goals in games if they do not wish to suffer after their 3-1 Copa del Rey comeback against Atletico Madrid.

Los Blancos failed to find the net until the final quarter-hour of regular time at the Santiago Bernabeu, when Rodrygo cancelled out Alvaro Morata's opener.

His superb solo finish forced extra-time in Thursday's quarter-final tie, with further goals for Benzema and Vinicius Junior cementing the turnaround for the hosts.

The reigning winner of the Ballon d'Or acknowledged his side made themselves work for their spot in the last four with their performance at points, but stresses they always had the quality to respond.

"It was a very difficult and complicated game," the France international reflected afterwards. "But with the players and talent we have, we knew we could make a comeback of it.

"Perhaps we need to score goals sooner, because we don't like to suffer. Atletico positioned themselves well, got in behind, and that cost us. Rodrygo's response was a great goal."

For Vinicius, his goal ensured a bright finish to a difficult day in which an effigy of the Brazilian winger was hung from a bridge near Madrid's training ground ahead of the derby.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti praised the 22-year-old in his post-match comments, adding there was never any doubt he would miss the match despite the incident.

"Vinicius has always wanted to play and was very focused on the game," he said. "He played a great game. What happened elsewhere today has been very regrettable."

Diego Simeone warned Atletico Madrid against focusing all their energy on stopping Vinicius Junior in Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against rivals Real Madrid.

Vinicius is enjoying another standout campaign for Carlo Ancelotti's men, leading his team-mates for goal contributions (16 – 11 goals, five assists) across all competitions as they bid to follow up last season's LaLiga and Champions League double.

The last Madrid derby was marred by racist abuse being directed towards the winger, who responded by dancing in front of Atletico's supporters after Los Blancos took the lead in a 2-1 win.

The Brazil international will look to guide Madrid to their first Copa del Rey semi-final since 2019 on Thursday, but Simeone is aware he will not be the only threat for Atleti to deal with.

"They have very important footballers, highlighting just one falls short," he said at Wednesday's pre-match press conference.

"We think of Real Madrid as a team, they have a lot of very good tools to compete, we'll try to take the game where we feel most comfortable to hurt them.

"They're a competitive team, and when they decide to compete, they do very well. We must show our strength, enthusiasm and desire to play an important game."

Atleti have won five of their seven games since the World Cup, only losing to Barcelona in that run, and Simeone is pleased with the progress displayed by his team.

"I see us better since we returned from the World Cup, with more offensive options to create danger and working very well as a group," he said.

"I see the group as committed and enthusiastic, and we are going to play an important game, a tie against a very strong team with a coach that I greatly admire."

For Madrid, Thursday's game represents their first at the Santiago Bernabeu since a 2-1 win over Cadiz in November, and Ancelotti hopes returning to their iconic stadium will provide his side with a boost.

"It may be that we are favourites because we play at home, but both teams have motivation and enthusiasm," the Italian said.

"The illusion of going home, I think, will help us. Playing in front of our fans will help us. Going back to the Bernabeu will be special."

Asked whether the opportunity to effectively end Atleti's hopes of lifting a trophy this season provided additional motivation, Ancelotti added: "We don't think about that. It's an important opportunity to reach the semi-finals of an important competition, nothing more. 

"We take into account the strength of the rival and we know that it takes a lot [to win]. It's a special game, and it's going to be an entertaining game because Atletico are improving."

Carlo Ancelotti says Luka Modric and Toni Kroos understand the need to refresh Real Madrid's midfield after the duo found themselves on the bench for last week's win at Athletic Bilbao.

Modric and Kroos were introduced as late substitutes during Madrid's impressive 2-0 win at San Mames on Sunday, with the former Germany man making the points safe with a fine long-range finish.

Modric's tally of 17 starts in all competitions this season has been bettered by team-mates Federico Valverde (24), Kroos (21) and Aurelien Tchouameni (18), while no Madrid midfielder has made more total appearances than Eduardo Camavinga's 27.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against rivals Atletico Madrid, Ancelotti said the experienced players in his squad understood the nature of Los Blancos' transition.

"They are professionals and understand the quality of this team," he said of Modric and Kroos. "I don't need to explain why they don't play. 

"They understand it very well, we talked about it in pre-season. Now is a time of transition for this team. 

"The veterans must have understanding and young players must have patience. That has been key to success in the squad. They are all motivated.

"They [Modric and Kroos] can still play together, I don't have a single doubt. They contribute a lot and will continue to contribute during this season. They are always decisive."

Ancelotti is yet to decide who will start in the engine room against Los Colchoneros, who triumphed in a two-legged tie when the rivals last met in the domestic cup back in 2015.

Asked about possible changes in midfield, the coach said: "It could be a part of the rotation that we have to take on for this game. Tomorrow we have to put together the best possible team, and that's what we'll try to do."

The last meeting between the clubs was marred by racist abuse directed towards Vinicius Junior, audible before and during Madrid's 2-1 win at the Civitas Metropolitano in September.

Vinicius was on the receiving end of several heavy challenges against Athletic last time out, and Ancelotti wants the winger to be afforded greater physical and mental protection. 

"It is a subject that we are concentrating on," Ancelotti said. "The player is in good physical condition, and mentally you have to protect him. 

"It's very important. Football needs Vinicius, who has an extraordinary talent. You have to protect the physical and mental aspects. He is very motivated and eager to contribute."

Meanwhile, with reports continuing to suggest Ancelotti is a contender to coach Vinicius in international football by taking the vacant Brazil job, the Italian insisted he had not received any proposal from the Selecao.

"So far, we haven't been in touch," he said. "If that contact ever takes place, I will let you know."

Vinicius Junior deserves more respect than he is afforded, according to Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti. 

The forward endured something of a muted outing in the 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames Stadium on Sunday, contributing just one shot and being shown a yellow card.

However, no player won more than his six fouls, with the 22-year-old on the receiving end of some hefty challenges.

Ancelotti went on the defensive when asked for his thoughts on Vinicius and reinforced his affection for the attacker.

"He is a very sensitive person, and [yet], everyone pushes him," he said. "Rival players, rival fans and sometimes even the referees.

"Tonight, as always, he has been kicked around a lot. But he will get better in this regard. Right now, everyone is putting pressure on him.

"It may be that he sometimes loses concentration, but he is a very young boy. I love him very much and I want him to be respected a little more."

Goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos delivered the goods for Madrid on the road, though the latter did not score until the closing stages.

It meant the visitors were forced to protect their slender lead secured through the France international's delightful volley.

The goal took Benzema joint-second on Madrid's all-time LaLiga scorer charts and Ancelotti was keen to pay tribute to his skills too after a tough end to 2022.

“He has returned with all his quality [after his injuries]," he added. "It brings us a lot, and we are very satisfied."

Carlo Ancelotti emphatically ruled out the possibility of Eduardo Camavinga leaving Real Madrid following links with Arsenal and Chelsea.

The 20-year-old midfielder joined Los Blancos in August 2021 in a reported €31million deal after emerging as one of Europe's most promising young players at Rennes.

He unsurprisingly took ownership of a rotation role during his first season, making 13 LaLiga starts from 26 appearances.

But the France international has struggled to kick on this term, with only five of his 16 league outings coming as a starter.

His future was then called into question on Friday when speculation surfaced suggesting Arsenal were particularly keen on a loan move, while big-spending Chelsea have been credited with an interest.

Camavinga's agent insisted on Saturday that the player is happy in Madrid, and Ancelotti looked to firmly put an end to the rumours.

"Eduardo is untouchable, like [Luka] Modric and [Toni] Kroos," the Italian told reporters ahead of Sunday's trip to Athletic Bilbao.

Camavinga is not the only Madrid player who has had to contend with a degree of uncertainty around his future.

Nacho Fernandez, Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio are among the players who have entered the final six months of their contracts.

Nevertheless, Ancelotti is convinced the lack of certainty is not an issue.

"They could start the game, or be decisive in the game," he added. "You have to evaluate. From what I see, I see very motivated players, and they show it. We have to see what happens.

"Their contracts are running down and they show that they have motivation, desire, and concentration. The fact that their contract ends does not affect them at all."

Ancelotti also moved to draw a line under the recent controversy around Aurelien Tchouameni.

The Frenchman, who has been injured for two weeks, was not in attendance for the midweek Copa del Rey win over Villarreal because he went to watch the NBA game in Paris between the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.

He apologised on Friday and Ancelotti says the situation is resolved.

Ancelotti said: "He made his apology public. He was wrong, but he is a young boy, and the subject has ended with this."

Carlo Ancelotti ordered his Real Madrid players to "wake up" before his team came from two goals down to beat Villarreal 3-2 in the Copa del Rey.

Madrid were beaten 3-1 by rivals Barcelona in Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final and they looked to be on their way out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday when they went into half-time 2-0 down.

Etienne Capoue and Samuel Chukwueze gave Villarreal in control, yet Vinicius Junior halved the deficit and Madrid were level when Eder Militao prodded home after Filip Jorgensen could only parry Karim Benzema's header into the centre-back's path.

Having started just three LaLiga games this season, Dani Ceballos seized upon his opportunity to complete a stunning turnaround to send Madrid into the quarter-finals.

After such a poor first-half display, Ancelotti revealed his furious reaction to his players at half-time provoked the much-improved second-half performance.

"I was really angry at half-time," Ancelotti told reporters. " I decided to take a risk and press high up.

"We weren't being forceful enough in our duels and I told them to wake up, there was still time to come back. They definitely woke up. It wasn't a good first half and we can't be playing like that.

"In the second period, it was an incredible reaction, as it always is. This club never gives up but we can't wait until near the end of the game to react.

"The team showed great personality to turn things around. The second half is fantastic for our confidence. We didn't give up."

Ceballos was Madrid's unlikely hero as he popped up to fire in from Marco Asensio's perfectly weighted pass.

Ancelotti felt that combination was one of the keys to victory, saying: "Ceballos and Asensio have changed the dynamics of the match because they put in more quality and energy, they were decisive in turning the result around."

An incident in the second half saw Vinicius clash with Pepe Reina, Villarreal's substitute goalkeeper, while Ancelotti was also involved in a confrontation with Los Blancos winger Rodrygo.

Rodrygo appeared to dismiss Ancelotti's offer of a handshake after the Brazil international made way for Asensio in the 56th minute, but the Madrid head coach had no concerns over the episode.

"He [Rodrygo] had a slight muscle strain and I decided not to risk him," Ancelotti explained. "He didn't acknowledge me because I think he forgot, I don't think it's a big deal.

"[The Reina and Vinicius altercation] was nothing. He was a bit wound up with Vinicius, that's all. I have a good relationship with him. What I saw, was that Vinicius got kicked a lot, like he does every game."

Real Madrid are "at the beginning of a new cycle", according to Carlo Ancelotti, who is confident Los Blancos' young players can step up to halt their difficult run of post-World Cup form. 

Madrid were heavily criticised for their performance in Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final defeat against Barcelona, with young midfielders Gavi and Pedri impressing in a deserved 3-1 win for the Blaugrana.

Excluding penalty shoot-outs, the European champions have only won two of their five games since the World Cup, only overcoming fourth-tier Cacereno in the Copa del Rey and struggling Real Valladolid in LaLiga.

With some of Madrid's experienced players – including midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric – attracting criticism in recent weeks, Ancelotti says his side are undergoing a transition.

"It is a young team. Everyone talks about Modric, Kroos or [Karim] Benzema, but there were already youngsters and there are more who have arrived this year," Ancelotti said in a press conference ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey tie against Villarreal. 

"I think we are at the beginning of a cycle. It is a moment of transition from one fantastic era to another. 

"There are some players who have made history at this club and others who are starting their careers. The day Luka, Karim and Toni stop playing, there are others who will take command."

Madrid failed to contain a young Barcelona team in the latest edition of El Clasico, but Ancelotti does not believe Los Blancos are trailing their rivals when it comes to player development.

"I think Madrid takes great care of the academy and we have a lot of youngsters who are progressing a lot," he said. "I'm sure some of them will be key players in the coming years.

"There are some periods in which you do not have those players, and others in which you can rely on them. But I think this generation is going to be very, very good."

Thursday's trip to the Estadio de la Ceramica sees Madrid reunited with a Villarreal team which beat them 2-1 in LaLiga less than two weeks ago, but Ancelotti is determined to use the last-16 tie to turn their form around. 

"It's an opportunity to get out of this difficult moment," Ancelotti said. "The sooner we get out of this rut, the better. It's a difficult game but we consider it a great opportunity.

"It was clear it would be difficult to find our level after the World Cup, but also injuries have reduced us a lot. The injuries to [Aurelien] Tchouameni and [David] Alaba have upset us a lot. 

"We have to hold on and get through this section of the season. Last year, during January we were not very good. But we got out of that difficult dynamic and we're going to do the same this season.

"We must not lose confidence. I have a lot of depth in this squad, with fantastic players. We have to trust them and we are sure that we are going to get better."

Carlo Ancelotti dismissed talk of Real Madrid being subjected to "sporting humiliation" by Barcelona in a 3-1 Supercopa de Espana final but accepts they are in a "difficult moment."

Barca dominated the El Clasico showdown in Riyadh on Sunday, claiming their first major trophy under head coach Xavi.

Teenage attacking midfielder Gavi was the star of the show, scoring the opening goal and laying one on for Robert Lewandowski just before half-time.

The 18-year-old Spain international also set up Gavi for the Blaugrana's third goal at the King Fahd Stadium, with Karim Benzema scoring a consolation in the closing stages.

Madrid were beaten by Villarreal in their last LaLiga game and trail leaders Barca by three points in the title race.

Although Xavi's side were much the better side, Los Blancos were the architects of their own downfall, making a mess of playing out for the back as they looked shaky at the back and were overrun in midfield by a vibrant Barca side.

Head coach Ancelotti said: "It's not a critical moment, it's a difficult and complicated moment. It usually happens over a season. It can be fixed with the usual commitment and the usual attitude.

"The players must realise that. These mistakes are easy to avoid."

The Italian added: "We gave away, it started even, there wasn't much rhythm and avoiding gifts is the first thing, but we have given two. We have to improve our physical condition and play as a team.

"The mistakes have been definitive. It wasn't a good match for anyone. Talking about sporting humiliation seems to me to be disrespectful. They were better, period."

Karim Benzema's return to full fitness has given Real Madrid a spring in their step heading into the second half of the season, according to Carlo Ancelotti.

Benzema struggled with persistent hamstring problems in the first few months of the season, which forced him to miss France's World Cup campaign in Qatar.

He has shrugged off those injury woes in recent weeks, though, scoring four goals in his past three games.

The latest came in Wednesday's Supercopa de Espana win over Valencia, which set up a mouth-watering final against arch rivals Barcelona on Sunday.

The Ballon d’Or holder is likely to lead the line against Xavi's side and Ancelotti is in no doubt the 35-year-old is fit and raring to go, declaring: "Benzema is back."

"That gives us a lot of confidence - for the next few games and for this second half of the season. He looks motivated and he's training well.

"He's a very important player for us. I think the team dealt well with his absence in the first half [of the season] and he'll help us in this second half."

Madrid enjoyed a magnificent 2022, winning the Champions League, LaLiga, Supercopa de Espana and UEFA Super Cup.

Ancelotti scoffed at suggestions his players might have become complacent after their recent success, insisting they are hungry for more trophies.

"It's not true [they are complacent]," he added. "We are talking about players who have not only won last year. They have started winning in 2013, and they will never have a full belly because they have a mental quality that is very high.

"Also, because we are in a very demanding club, and it doesn't allow you to have a full belly."

Cristiano Ronaldo paid old friends a visit on Friday, dropping in on Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid ahead of the Supercopa de Espana final in Riyadh.

It may have been rude of Madrid's record goalscorer not to show his face, given Los Blancos were training at the facilities of his new team, Al Nassr.

The 37-year-old was nevertheless warmly received as his former team were put through their paces, training in the build-up to Sunday's trophy game against Barcelona.

Ronaldo watched the session and met with Madrid's players, the club said, with the Portuguese perhaps hankering for a slice of the action.

He also chatted with fellow former Madrid star Roberto Carlos, with the Brazilian making an appearance at the session as well.

Ronaldo last featured in a Supercopa for Madrid in August 2017, scoring in a 3-1 first-leg win against Barcelona at Camp Nou before Madrid won the second game 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu to seal a 5-1 aggregate rout over their fiercest rivals.

Ronaldo has yet to make his competitive debut for Al Nassr, who face Al Shabab in the Saudi Pro League on Saturday.

He is expected to miss that game, having also sat out a fixture against Al Tai last week, due to a two-match ban handed down by the English Football Association after Ronaldo slapped a mobile phone out of a young Everton fan's hand at the end of Manchester United's defeat at Goodison Park last April.

Ronaldo has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Al Nassr, the deal seemingly ending his long and successful career in European club football.

He scored 451 goals in 438 games for Madrid in a staggering nine-year stint with Los Blancos, before moving on to Juventus in July 2018.

Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe are among the leading candidates for The Best FIFA Men's Player award after unsurprisingly being named on the 14-strong list of nominees on Thursday.

FIFA's awards ceremony will take place on February 27 and recognise the sport's high achievers from 2022 across several categories, with The Best FIFA Men's Player prize being the headline attraction.

Messi, who won the 2019 award and came a close second to Robert Lewandowski for 2021, will be the firm favourite after inspiring Argentina to World Cup success.

It was the Albiceleste's first such title since 1986, and Messi played a crucial role in the triumph as Argentina beat France on penalties after a 3-3 draw last month.

Messi scored five goals and set up another three to win himself the Golden Ball, and he nearly took home the Golden Boot as well.

Of course, his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe won the latter prize thanks to his hat-trick against Argentina in the dramatic final, and he will likely be Messi's closest rival.

Had it not been a World Cup year, Manchester City's Erling Haaland might have fancied his chances of staking a claim after a sensational start to life in the Premier League.

Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema is among the nominees and may be expecting a top-three finish after carrying Real Madrid to another Champions League crown, though his lack of World Cup involvement could prove detrimental.

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti is in the running for The Best FIFA Men's Coach gong, though Argentina's Lionel Scaloni will likely be the favourite of the five-man shortlist.

Argentina are also represented in The Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper category by Emiliano Martinez among the five nominees.

For the women's prizes, Euro 2022 champions England have several nominations.

Beth Mead, Keira Walsh and Leah Williamson are all up for the players' award; Sarina Wiegman will be the favourite for the coaches' accolade; and Mary Earps is in contention to be named The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper.

The voting process will involve international captains and coaches, journalists, and fans selecting their winners in the various categories.

Voting closes on February 3 and FIFA will announce three finalists from each section thereafter.

NOMINATIONS

The Best FIFA Men's Player
Julian Alvarez (Argentina/River Plate/Manchester City)
Jude Bellingham (England/Borussia Dortmund) 
Karim Benzema (France/Real Madrid) 
Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium/Manchester City)
Erling Haaland (Norway/ Borussia Dortmund/Manchester City)
Achraf Hakimi (Morocco/Paris Saint-Germain) 
Robert Lewandowski (Poland/Bayern Munich/Barcelona)
Sadio Mane (Senegal/Liverpool/Bayern Munich)
Kylian Mbappe (France/Paris Saint-Germain)
Lionel Messi (Argentina/Paris Saint-Germain)
Luka Modric (Croatia/Real Madrid)
Neymar (Brazil/Paris Saint-Germain)
Mohamed Salah (Egypt/Liverpool) 
Vinicius Junior (Brazil/Real Madrid)

The Best FIFA Men's Coach
Carlo Ancelotti (Italy/Real Madrid)
Didier Deschamps (France/French National Team)
Pep Guardiola (Spain/Manchester City) 
Walid Regragui (Morocco/Wydad AC/Moroccan National Team)
Lionel Scaloni (Argentina/Argentinian National Team) 

The Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper
Alisson Becker (Brazil/Liverpool) 
Yassine Bounou (Morocco/Sevilla)
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium/Real Madrid)
Ederson (Brazil/Manchester City)
Emiliano Martinez (Argentina/Aston Villa) 

The Best FIFA Women's Player: 
Aitana Bonmatí (Spain/Barcelona)
Debinha (Brazil/North Carolina Courage)
Jessie Fleming (Canada/Chelsea)
Ada Hegerberg (Norway/Lyon)
Sam Kerr (Australia/Chelsea)
Beth Mead (England/Arsenal)
Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands/Arsenal)
Alex Morgan (United States/Orlando Pride/San Diego Wave)
Lena Oberdorf (Germany/Wolfsburg)
Alexandra Popp (Germany/Wolfsburg)
Alexia Putellas (Spain/Barcelona)
Wendie Renard (France/Lyon)
Keira Walsh (England/Manchester City/Barcelona)
Leah Williamson (England/Arsenal)

The Best FIFA Women's Coach
Sonia Bompastor (France/Lyon) 
Emma Hayes (England/Chelsea)
Bev Priestman (England/Canadian National Team)
Pia Sundhage (Sweden/Brazilian National Team)
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg (Germany/German National Team)
Sarina Wiegman (Netherlands / English National Team)

The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper
Ann-Katrin Berger (Germany/Chelsea Women)
Mary Earps (England/Manchester United) 
Christiane Endler (Chile/Lyon)
Merle Frohms (Germany/Eintracht Frankfurt /Wolfsburg)
Alyssa Naeher (United States/Chicago Red Stars)
Sandra Panos Garca-Villamil (Spain/Barcelona)

Carlo Ancelotti conceded Real Madrid were far from their best against Valencia, though that did not stop Los Blancos from reaching the Supercopa de Espana final.

Karim Benzema's first-half penalty seemingly had Los Blancos on course for victory after a dominant opening 45 minutes, but Samuel Lino equalised immediately after the interval for a resurgent Valencia.

Giorgi Mamardashvili kept Gennaro Gattuso's side in the semi-final clash in Riyadh with a series of extra-time stops, though Madrid prevailed on penalties after Eray Comert and Jose Gaya failed to convert.

Ancelotti acknowledged Madrid's shortcomings after the 4-3 shoot-out victory following an underwhelming 1-1 draw, suggesting the World Cup break may have played its part in a lack of sharpness.

The Madrid head coach told reporters: "It hasn't been a physical problem because in extra time we've done better than them. We're not at the top but it's normal.

"There are players who started a little while after the World Cup. We've put players who were on the limit like [Ferland] Mendy and [Dani] Carvajal.

"We wanted to reach the final and that's what we've done. It's a different moment from last year but I think we're going to fight hard to win the Super Cup."

Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos all converted their spot-kicks, with Ancelotti preferring to go with experience for his first three takers before Marco Asensio found the net with Madrid's fourth penalty.

"I put the three players with the most experience, the best," he added. "The last one was Vinicius [Junior] and it is better that he did not shoot."

The victory did seemingly come at a cost, though, as Eduardo Camavinga, Eder Militao and Lucas Vazquez all sustained injuries.

"Camavinga has had a blow to the knee, Militao is dizzy and is fine," Ancelotti continued. "Lucas has a sprain, that is the most serious. I don't know if he will be in Sunday's game."

LaLiga leaders Barcelona, who Madrid trail by three points, or Real Betis await in Sunday's final after the second semi-final in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Carlo Ancelotti conceded Real Madrid were far from their best against Valencia, though that did not stop Los Blancos from reaching the Supercopa de Espana final.

Karim Benzema's first-half penalty seemingly had Los Blancos on course for victory after a dominant opening 45 minutes, but Samuel Lino equalised immediately after the interval for a resurgent Valencia.

Giorgi Mamardashvili kept Gennaro Gattuso's side in the semi-final clash in Riyadh with a series of extra-time stops, though Madrid prevailed on penalties after Eray Comert and Jose Gaya failed to convert.

Ancelotti acknowledged Madrid's shortcomings after the 4-3 shoot-out victory following an underwhelming 1-1 draw, suggesting the World Cup break may have played its part in a lack of sharpness.

The Madrid head coach told reporters: "It hasn't been a physical problem because in extra time we've done better than them. We're not at the top but it's normal.

"There are players who started a little while after the World Cup. We've put players who were on the limit like [Ferland] Mendy and [Dani] Carvajal.

"We wanted to reach the final and that's what we've done. It's a different moment from last year but I think we're going to fight hard to win the Super Cup."

Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos all converted their spot-kicks, with Ancelotti preferring to go with experience for his first three takers before Marco Asensio found the net with Madrid's fourth penalty.

"I put the three players with the most experience, the best," he added. "The last one was Vinicius [Junior] and it is better that he did not shoot."

The victory did seemingly come at a cost, though, as Eduardo Camavinga, Eder Militao and Lucas Vazquez all sustained injuries.

"Camavinga has had a blow to the knee, Militao is dizzy and is fine," Ancelotti continued. "Lucas has a sprain, that is the most serious. I don't know if he will be in Sunday's game."

LaLiga leaders Barcelona, who Madrid trail by three points, or Real Betis await in Sunday's final after the second semi-final in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Cristiano Ronaldo's move to join Al Nassr is proof of Saudi Arabia's ambition to improve as a football nation, says Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Portugal superstar Ronaldo had his contract with Manchester United terminated by mutual consent shortly before his country's World Cup opener, leaving him free to make a lucrative move to the Saudi Pro League.

The transfer marks the end of an illustrious career for Ronaldo in Europe, where he lifted the Champions League on five occasions and won the Ballon D'Or on five occasions.

With Ronaldo having reportedly attracted the interest of clubs in Europe and MLS, Courtois believes the addition is a statement of intent from Saudi Arabian football.

"The transfer of Cristiano makes it clear that the country wants to improve in sports," Courtois told reporters.

"Cristiano choosing to come here is his decision, but it shows that Arabia wants to improve. They've brought him in to win the league."

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti had a similar view of the deal, saying: "Cristiano has been a fantastic signing. We wish him well. He's a legend of our club, like [Gareth] Bale, who retired yesterday. They remain in the hearts of all Madridistas."

Madrid are in Saudi Arabia for the Supercopa de Espana, where they face Valencia in the semi-finals on Wednesday, and Ancelotti wants to use the competition as a benchmark for success in the remainder of the campaign.

"Titles are always important for this club. Last year gave us a lot of confidence for that season. Hopefully the same thing will happen this year," he added.

"We have to fight for all the titles. We have one very close to try to win it. The goal is the Super Cup, for now."

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