MIAMI LAKES, Fla. — It was friendly enough when Real Madrid and FC Barcelona met on a soccer field here at Hard Rock Stadium, like when Barca superstar Lionel Messi was roughed up three times by defenders and subsequently was presented a hand to climb to his feet. More so, though, this was a remarkable exhibition.
Whether it was worth of the El Clasico designation — the name given to the rivalry that could be the greatest in world sport — is questionable. Judging by the applause in the press box that greeted the flurry of remarkable goals — that’s right, the press box — it’s doubtful anyone who paid their way in Saturday night felt swindled by the 3-2 Barcelona victory.
Barca’s game-winner was scored on a volley by defender Gerard Pique off a perfectly placed free kick from Neymar just five minutes into the second half.
“The results are the consequence of the way we played,” Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde said. “Generating offensive chances, controlling the game and obviously controlling the matches … to win we have to concentrate on playing our game.”
This is only the second time ever Real and Barca met outside Spain. Honestly, if that’s going to happen more, each would rather it occur in the neutral-site UEFA Champions League final.
If an exhibition game is designed to prepare each team for what is coming in the regular season, though, it’s hard to imagine either getting a better workout than this.
Real’s defense had to cope with the constant menace of Neymar streaking down the left sideline and the lurking terror of what Messi might conjure with the simplest of touches in the middle. Barca’s back four had to cope with little Luka Modric tearing through the center of the field.
“It’s not important, ultimately, the loss. It does hurt. We don’t like to lose, but it’s not the most important thing,” Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane said afterward. “We also have to do better; there are things we have to change when we go to work. Ultimately, this was a great experience for the fans.”
They will meet again in August in a two-match series that means more. Ordinarily the Spanish Super Cup, which matches the winner of La Liga against the holder of Copa del Rey just before the league season opens, is a nice trophy to win mostly because it’s the first available. This year, because it’s Real-Barca, it’ll be ferocious.
It was a little like that on this occasion. Ordinarily, the International Champions Cup is a series of high-end friendlies that culminates in a title game whose winner won’t be shutting down any streets for a parade. But because it was Real and Barca, there was an edge to what to developed that went beyond mere sharpening of skills and tactics.
It was inadvisably edgy in the 63rd minute, when Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic shoved referee Jair Marrufo while complaining about a foul call. Perhaps because it was a friendly, there was no red card shown. But such an action ordinarily will get you thrown out of most every game in most every sport on this planet.
“It was hard because of the heat and the humidity, but I think we had a good start,” Valverde said. “Because of the heat, we went down at some points during the match. Overall, I think we did well. We dominated, or tried to dominate, through the whole match.”
The spectacle began almost as soon as the ball was kicked off, when a fortunate deflection from a ball Messi was attempting to play forward bounced back to teammate Sergio Busquets, who then immediately sent it between two Real defenders and into open space for Messi. From 10 yards outside the area, Messi dribbled forward and disarmed two Real players late to the scene; it appeared he actually used the foot second, Raphael Verane, as a backboard to bank in his left-footed shot.
It was 2-0 just four minutes later, when Neymar sent a tricky, outside-the-foot flick across the top of the box that Real right back Marcelo couldn’t reach, that Barca striker Luis Suarez was wise enough to allow through and Rakitic then powered inside the left post.
It would be tied before the break, though, on a rampage by midfielder Mateo Kovacevic in the 14th minute, and then a strike from 21-year-old Marco Asensio that involved a beautiful setup from Kovacevic that eluded Barca’s Jordi Alba in the 36th minute.
Madrid played without star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who got an extended break because he played with Portugal in June’s Confederations Cup. Zidane played Karim Benzema at the center of the front line in a 4-3-3 formation; there has been lots of discussion about the possibility of the team buying teenaged French striker Kylian Mbappe to put more danger in that spot, but Zindane declined to answer whether he needed such a player and said he would work with the team he has.
“We started pretty bad — two goals in six-to-seven minutes, obviously there’s not much you can say. That’s a lack of concentration,” Zidane said. “After the first 10 minutes, we entered the game a little better, and we played well. But overall you can’t be too positive with the way we played.
“Overall, we let up too many easy balls, and that’s not our game.”
Zidane was told by a reporter, though, that when Real plays poorly in its summer exhibitions its generally does well in the games that count. This was the second loss for the team in a week; they previously dropped one in a penalty shootout to Manchester United.
“Well, I hope that’s the case,” Zidane said with a smile. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”