Football in Paradise: El Clásico Miami

La Liga

A night of glorious sporting spectacle. The epitome of footballing rivalry, packaged and shipped to a Floridian paradise. El Clásico Miami.

It was an intriguing spectacle unlike no other Clásico ever played. In front of a 65,000 bumper crowd, two of Europe’s elite squads kicked off. I’m decked in Barça gear but the two fan groups are quite intermingled throughout the stadium. It’s a unique atmosphere at Florida’s biggest ever “soccer” match. As the teams begin to parry each other in the midfield like two world-class fencers, a miracle only possible at El Clásico occurs.

I can barely see it on the opposite end of the pitch. Lionel Messi escapes a lunging Sergio Ramos, but his attempted pass is deflected. It doesn’t matter, not with Sergio Busquets in midfield. The Spaniard quickly readjusts the play to feed Messi a back-line-splitting through ball. But the Argentinean wasn’t quite through on goal. Luka Modrić and Raphaël Varane recover to block Messi’s dribbling…or not.

A quick turn, deflected shot, and the Barcelona fans going insane. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Three minutes hadn’t passed since kickoff before I’d witnessed one of the game’s legendary players score a sublime goal.

Three more minutes pass before Neymar is on the ball, away on the left wing. He cuts the ball back across the top of the box to Luis Suárez, but he steps over the ball. Midfielder Ivan Rakitić had made his way up and smacked the cross with his right, sending it low and across goal, into the bottom corner. I was dumbfounded, even confused. The clock was 6:15 when the Barça players jogged in celebration towards the corner flag, high-fiving and hugging each other as if their triumph over Real Madrid was anything but a friendly. But it’s Real; they came back.

In only the fourteenth minute, rotational player Mateo Kovačić played a one-two with Casemiro before embarking on a run, leaving Gerard Piqué on the grass before sniping a shot into the bulging net. I watched the ball rolling in the goal only yards in front of me, bitter that the opposition fans around me had their chance to cheer. A blistering counterattack by Real with only ten minutes left in the half saw Marco Asensio slot in the equalizer after being left one-on-one with Jasper Cillessen.

The final, decisive goal was scored by Piqué in the 50th minute and celebration ensued in front of us. Both teams threatened throughout the rest of the half but nothing came of the chances. The magic never quite though, and by the time the final whistle blew both sets of fans were still in high spirits. It was a memorable experience to see Spain’s top two teams tussle it out on my side of the big pond – one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.