The power of El Clasico spread Stateside as Barcelona and Real Madrid faced up in a pre-season sizzler in Miami. But one star was missing…

The season’s first clash of the titans was seized by FC Barcelona (3-2) in a fun game against Real Madrid played in Miami on Saturday, in one of the biggest stunts La Liga has been able to put together lately in order to grow interest in the US.

We should note that La Liga – though rudely manhandled and gagged by its own structural and organisational incompetence – is consistently one of the most watched major foreign leagues in the United States, hugely popular amongst the Latin fans and increasingly appealing for Americans. Just take a glance at the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ cheered by the crowd that packed the stands of the Hard Rock stadium, even if the game itself was lacking in the stakes department.

Leo Messi doesn’t actually know how to play a friendly game. He always behaves and performs as if the match was the most important one over. Three minutes in and he had already fired once and struck the target. Minutes later, Rakitic got the 2-0 while a stunned Real Madrid tried getting back off the canvas. It wasn’t until Mateo Kovacic, the MVP for Los Blancos in the game, got his goal that saw Zinedine Zidane’s men wake up from their slumber.

Regardless of Marco Asensio’s equalizer (what a player!) and Gerard Piqué’s easy 3-2 in the first minutes of the second half, the spotlight was placed on Neymar Junior, in what could’ve arguably been his last game as a FC Barcelona player if we believe deeply-sourced reports coming from Paris, which claim that the player will join Paris Saint-Germain in the next few days. Football-wise, it didn’t matter: he took a couple of brilliant runs and shots, and only his finishes being off-target and some Keylor Navas spectacular saves denied him from scoring.

The Neymar drama has kept on building momentum day after day, in a week with many twists and turns which had an obvious highlight in Piqué’s tweet last Sunday night: “He stays”, he wrote next to a caption with the Brazilian striker. Twitter went wild for a few hours after such a megaton announcement, which was tempered the next day when the defender added that it was only “a personal opinion”. Duh! Barça fans were already celebrating Neymar staying, but the transfer wasn’t dead in the water: it was only waiting to pick up some steam.

With Neymar’s departure being still a very large possibility, one of the main attractions of yesterday’s game was ostensibly missing. Where was Cristiano Ronaldo? Indeed, the absence of Portugal’s number 9 and Madrid’s superstar was felt by his team, but especially by the fans attending the game. His packed schedule was the official explanation given, but actually the main reason was the hearing he has to attend next Monday July 31st in front of the Spanish authorities.

Millionaire Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins and the mastermind behind the PR stunt of bringing El Clásico to Miami, even offered Cristiano the use of his private plane to travel from Madrid to the US on Saturday, playing the game and immediately returning back so he could testify in front of the jury, as he is under investigation by tax authorities for a reported fraud of $17 million.


After testifying, Cristiano will enjoy a couple more days off and join his team mates on August 5th, when Zinedine Zidane will complete his roster with his biggest star. We’ve come a long way since Ronaldo’s inner circle expressed unhappiness with his situation over a month ago: no big sides have bid the reported $235 million that Madrid president asked for negotiating, so Cristiano has no other choice than to put up, shut up and starting working his ass off again to reach his performance peak as soon as possible.

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