Satur­day night fever as El Cla­sico comes to Mi­ami

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

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.”

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