Football: Puig takes centre stage for Barca after season in background

CORDOBA, Spain (Reuters) – Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig was the team’s unlikely hero in their penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad on Wednesday to reach the Spanish Super Cup final, after spending most of the season sitting on the bench.

After Antoine Griezmann had blazed his penalty over the bar in the shootout after a 1-1 draw following extra time, 21-year-old Puig showed nerves of steel to send keeper Alex Remiro the wrong way and clinch a 3-2 victory on penalties.

“The coach said he had four takers and he needed a fifth and I was the first one to say I wanted to take it,” Puig told Movistar Plus after sending his side into Sunday’s final, where they will play Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao.

“They had missed many penalties, so had we, Antoine missed one that could have been decisive but when I picked the ball up I knew it was going in the net and I struck it with real conviction.”

The diminutive midfielder is one of the most hyped players to emerge from Barca’s youth academy in recent years but despite remarkable technical ability, he has barely featured for the first team since Ronald Koeman took charge this season.

Even with numerous injuries, Puig is yet to earn a league start under the Dutch coach, who has at times got frustrated by constant questions from local media about why he has not given the youngster more of a chance.

“I never lose my smile, I’m a happy boy even though I’m not playing much and if Ronald gives me a the odd minute here or there I’ll make the most of it,” added the midfielder.

“If not I’ll keep working, I’m never going to throw in the towel.”

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