FC Barcelona have once again shown why they are considered by many to be the world’s premier soccer club, capturing the International Champions Cup with a brilliant 3-2 win over Spanish rivals Real Madrid on Saturday – the first time the two have squared off in a so-called “El Classico” matchup outside of Spain in 35 years.
The victory brings Barca to a perfect 3-0 since kicking off their historic global partnership with Rakuten on July 1, and has fans around the globe feeling very positive about the team’s prospects for the coming regular season.
The game, which was held in front of a capacity crowd of 65,000 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, was Barca’s third and final contest in a whirlwind U.S. tour that also saw them earn wins against Juventus FC and Manchester United, in New Jersey and Washington respectively.
Though billed as a friendly, the game featured the two La Liga powerhouses at near full strength, save for the absence of Madrid’s star forward Christiano Ronaldo, who is still on vacation. With serious regional bragging rights at stake, both sides came to the field with play-off-like intensity.
Messi opened the scoring just three minutes into the match, with a nifty left footer that deflected off an opposing defender to beat the keeper and send the crowd – many of whom cheered on Barca in brand new Rakuten jerseys – into wild chants of “Messi! Messi! Messi!”
Minutes later Ivan Rakitic doubled their lead with a laser beam to the bottom corner of the net off a clever pass from Neymar Jr.
While it looked like the game might be quickly getting away from last year’s La Liga champions, Madrid managed to turn the tables with two goals of their own to draw level at halftime.
And what a halftime it was! With lights, fireworks and a boffo performance by Marc Antony that had fans dancing in the aisles, it felt more like the Super Bowl than halftime at a preseason soccer game (and in a country that’s only just beginning to fall in love with the beautiful game!)
Back on the field, the momentum once again swung for Barca, this time decisively, with Pique flicking home a curling Neymar free-kick in the 50th minute to put his side ahead 3-2.
Despite a valiant effort from Madrid in the remaining 40 minutes, they weren’t able to bridge the gap. After the final whistle was blown, the International Champions Cup was awarded to FC Barcelona.
But the Blaugranas won’t have long to celebrate, with the team scheduled to meet Real Madrid twice again in August for the Spanish Super Cup. Manager Ernesto Valverde is already looking ahead to the next match, but he made sure to take a moment at the post-game press conference to reflect on the successful tour – and to marvel at the depth of support for his team in the U.S.
“We’re satisfied in all ways, by the game and all the people who came to support,” he said. “We knew Barca had international support but you have to live it. You have to come here and realize the atmosphere at the game, from the training session yesterday. We’re very happy.”
It’s safe to the say that the thousands of U.S. fans who saw their soccer heroes in action left happy as well.