Saturday night fever as El Clasico comes to Miami
MIAMI — The new La Liga season is still weeks away, but try telling Miami that Saturday night’s El Clasico at a soldout Hard Rock Stadium is meaningless.
For the first time in over 35 years, Barcelona and Real Madrid will meet on foreign soil. It’s also the first encounter between the two sides in the United States.
Back in 1982, the match was staged postseason in Venezuela, just before that year’s World Cup finals. That game largely failed to capture the imagination and wasn’t even shown on television in Europe.
Fast forward to 2017, however, and this encounter has morphed into a huge global event which has gripped a soccer-mad city and should
ensure the now annual International Champions Cup exhibition tournament will remain a fixture on the sporting calendar for years to come.
TV network ESPN has transplanted a crew of 25 reporters and presenters to the city to produce wall-towall coverage.
Their daily Sports Center news show will be on site in Miami and, at a time of the year when the NFL, NBA and NHL are in hibernation, the timing couldn’t be better.
The game has long since sold out — tickets on the black market are selling for upwards of $900 each — although only 30 percent were bought in the south Florida region, with the remainder being snapped up by fans from the rest of the United States and 50 other countries.
Soccer supporters from Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Honduras will all descend on the recently renovated home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins while the city itself is basking in the glow of a fun-filled festival of soccer.
A legends game at the ‘Casa Clasico’ event at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami on Friday was due to see legends such as Patrick Kluivert, Fernando Hierro and Carlos Puyol among others all dust down their boots once again and recreate the magic moments of yesteryear.
Live music and DJs will keep fans entertained and, on Saturday, those unlucky enough to miss out on a ticket will be able to watch the action on huge TV screens and party the day away.
Travel companies have also been offering special ‘El Clasico packages’ with prices, including stadium tickets and hotel stays in luxurious South Beach properties, starting from $750 per night.
Both teams, of course, are in the middle of their pre-season preparations and have been traveling across the United States for the past two weeks, as are a host of other European big guns, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.
Yet such a mouthwatering rivalry ensures that whenever Real and Barca meet, interest abounds.
The build-up has, invariably, been centered around incredibly priced incomings — and possible departures — both at Camp Nou and Bernabeu Stadium.
Neymar, Barca’s Brazilian superstar, has been consistently linked with a recordbreaking move to French giant Paris Saint-Germain, which has also been touring in the States, while Real is believed to be closing in on young Monaco star Kylian Mbappe for a fee which could eclipse $210 million.
Furthermore, while Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is still basking in the glory of winning the Spanish league and Champions League double, new Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde’s reign has not started ideally.
Having to contend with the Neymar situation and the media circus surrounding it wasn’t what the former Barca forward would have hoped for so early into his tenure.
The result of the match may be meaningless. Yet Hugo Sanchez, the legendary Mexican striker who scored 208 goals in 283 games for Madrid during a glorious spell which stretched from 1985 to 1992, knows exactly what it means when these two giants of the game collide.
“It’s the most important game in Spain but given the technological advances we have in the world, it should be known as El Global Clasico,” said Sanchez. “For those lucky enough to be at the match, they will have an opportunity of a lifetime.”