(Photo by NY Yankees)
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, August 9- Soccer fans flocked to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night to see two of the legendary European superpowers, Real Madrid of Spain and A.C. Milan of Italy, meet in a friendly match.
Prior to entering Yankee Stadium, many in the large crowd had dinner at neighborhood eateries on 161st Street. Several distributed 4-inch commemorative soccer balls to its patrons. Dr. Cary Goodman, Executive Director of the 161 BID Business Improvement District), who spearheaded the project, commented, “We want everyone to enjoy this great soccer match. These are two great teams, representing two great soccer traditions.”
Having the opportunity to see two of the most prestigious football sides on the Yankee Stadium pitch was quite an attraction as the sellout crowd of 49,474 was the largest gathering to witness a soccer game in either Yankee Stadium.
The match between the world renowned sides was the second of the World Football Challenge matches held at the iconic sports venue in the Bronx this summer. Soccer’s premiere at the current Yankee Stadium took place on July 22, when the Chelsea F.C. and Paris St. Germain fought to a 1-1 draw. A very respectable crowd of 38,202 attended that contest.
Excitement grew as the day of the second game drew nearer. The two sides have been among the most prominent world football squads in history. Milan, now in its third century of existence, is one of the most decorated clubs in history. The club has been an 18-time winner of Italy’s Series A. It has captured the European Cup/UEFA Champions League Title in seven years, 1963, ‘69, ‘89, ‘90, ‘94, 2003 and ‘07.
Real holds a record nine wins of the European Cup beginning with five consecutive titles from 1956-60, ’66, ’98, 2000 and ’02. Within Spain, Real has been victorious a record 32 times. The club’s most recent season, 2011-12 was a banner year. It set marks for points, 100, goals scored, 121, difference in goals scored, +89, away wins, 16, and total wins (32).
The contest proved to be extremely one-sided to the delight of most of those in attendance as Real was victorious, 5-1. Although billed as a “friendly,” individual and club pride are always factors when professional athletes are in action.
One of the greatest current superstars of the sport, Christian Ronaldo, lived up to expectations as he scored two goals, During the 2011-12 season, the Portuguese forward scored 46 goals in 37 games in La Liga in Spain and netted 12 in 13 other appearances. Ronaldo remains the most costly transfer in world football history as Real Madrid paid $130 million to Manchester United to obtain his services.
The 27-year old received a standing ovation from the full house when he was removed from the contest with 10 minutes left. When asked why Ronaldo was given so many minutes, Madrid’s manager, Jose Morinho, replied, “It’s a historical stadium, a historical opponent, a full stadium. Christian is part of the show, what the people want to see.”
Another Real Madrid player in the spotlight was Kaká. The talented Brazilian assisted on two goals in the second half. The 30-year old was rumored to be returning to his previous club, Milan, for the new season. Marinho forthrightly expressed his opinion, “I’m happy to keep him and happy to sell if he wants to go. He’s a great player. My arms are open if he wants to stay.” To clubs interested in purchasing the services of Kaká, he warned, “If you want to buy a diamond, you have to pay.”
The nine games of the Herbalife World Football Challenge were played not only to heighten interest in soccer within the United States nor to fill the coffers of each club, but also to prepare each club for the fast approaching new season. Madrid open its season on August 18 and Milan opens on August 26.