As part of the relatively unknown World Football Challenge, two well-known European soccer giants, Real Madrid and A.C. Milan came to play on American soil. Although the friendly match may hold little significance, tell that to the sellout crowd of 49,474 strong, who filled Yankee Stadium with the raucous choir so reminiscent of the world’s biggest soccer arenas.
On a muggy night in the Bronx, the crowd was spellbound upon seeing Real Madrid’s star striker Cristiano Ronaldo on the big screen and witnessing his mesmerizing step overs. On a night where Real Madrid would go on to win 5-1, let’s just say Ronaldo fans definitely got their fill of perhaps the world’s most hyped soccer player and definitely one of its best.
The first half was almost all Real Madrid, as they enjoyed over 68% of the possession, forcing Milan to contract and play mostly behind the ball. The “Real Deal” would get its first breakthrough in the 24th minute off the foot of midfielder Ángel di María. Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati would punch a corner kick out of the box, which happily floated down to a waiting di María who pounced on it, sending a paralyzing volley into the roof of the net. However, Milan’s compact positioning would result in a few counterattacking scraps, one of which result in a 33rd minute Robinho goal, courtesy of two well-orchestrated passes from forward Antonio Cassano, and the other from midfielder Antonio Nocerino. The two sides would finish the half tied at 1-1, despite Real Madrid having had 13 shots to A.C. Milan’s 3.
While Ronaldo had his moments in the first half, he must have put on his dancing shoes, because he put on quite a show in the second period. Just four minutes in, Ronaldo would one-time a missile into the upper right corner of the net, giving Milan’s substituted keeper, Marco Amelia no chance. In the 66th minute, Real Madrid midfielder Kaká and striker Higuaín would set up Ronaldo for his second goal, a smooth ball finessed calmly passed a diving Amelia. In the 80th minute, Ronaldo would exit to a euphoric cheer from the stadium, thanking him for putting on a performance well worthy of the cost of admission. Real Madrid would tack on two late goals to increase their lead to 5-1. Defender Sergio Ramos headed in a corner kick, and midfielder José Callejón nonchalantly chipped in a Kaká cross.
Although one-sided, the match portrayed the vivacity and skill of European football that is often missing from the MLS. The influx of premier European players and clubs coming overseas can only help the sport take hold in the U.S. And maybe, just maybe more Americans will begin to see why soccer or “the original football” is the world’s most popular sport.