Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Before the crowd gathered around Allegiant Stadium on Saturday night could come into focus, faint drumbeats filled the air. Then the faint repetition of the chants, which finally rose to a climax at the gates. And then the smell of a torch, a burning smell that rivaled the delicious aromas of street vendors, wafted across the parking lots. In the distance, the purple smoke from that flare could be seen, a sign that it was being hoisted by a Real Madrid fan.

It didn’t take long to realize that this wasn’t going to be a typical crowd for a sporting event — an exhibition game as part of their preseason training — played on American soil.

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“It was a nice experience for all Real Madrid and Barcelona fans to be here,” Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti told ESPN. “The stadium is fantastic and so is the atmosphere. So we are very happy to be here.”

The scene in front of Allegiant Stadium for Saturday night El Classico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, ​​two of the most famous clubs in the world, competed in every major game in the country in every sport. It was a connection of what Americans know and love about sports. It had the happy energy of an NCAA tournament crowd signing up for March Madness. Inside, it sounded like the hottest rivalries in college football. It had the excitement of a Game 7 for the fans who never get to see their clubs in person.

Still, it didn’t matter. It was a “friendly match”, part of both clubs’ US tour and only the second classic to be played in America. Nearly 62,000 people descended on Allegiant Stadium to see their teams up close in one of football’s most iconic matches, and Ancelotti stressed that the atmosphere was definitely different than a classic in Spain. “Bernabeu was our home,” he said. “Well, different, but was exciting.”

If someone wasn’t wearing a blue and red Barcelona shirt, they were wearing a white Real Madrid shirt. In between there wasn’t much. One woman had an American flag draped like a flag on her back, but in general there was a hard line for the fandom. They were either for Real Madrid or Barca.

As Saturday morning emerged from another summery Friday night in Vegas, the Strip came alive with fans from both sides. All along the Strip from Resorts World to New York, New York and beyond, there was a shirt, a jersey, a cap – or all three – from both clubs. Families matched. Groups of young men each wore a different player jersey. Older fans broke out the classic kits. Street vendors sold flags and ribbons from both sides and made their way down Las Vegas Boulevard while security guards kept kicking them out of corners.

In the hours leading up to the game, crowds of Barcelona and Real Madrid fans crossed the Hacienda Avenue bridge and headed from the Strip via I-15 to the stadium. Almost marching, divided by their loyalty, their chants, cheers and songs vied with each other, the fans making their presence – and arrival – known to everyone. Another crowd of football-loving people ran down Dean Martin Drive, alongside cars moving slowly along, past grocers and other street vendors selling jerseys and shirts, clamoring for their attention.

Everyone was there early and few took the opportunity to watch their clubs warm up. With half an hour to go, the fans were almost full, banners and flags waving, more chants and cheers echoed through the two-year-old stadium.

In the moments leading up to kick-off, when the field was empty as both teams made their final preparations in their respective dressing rooms, the noise level got loud and stayed there until both teams emerged. From then on it was a battle of the lungs. Each fan base tried to drown out the other with chants and cheers. With every shot, everyone slid to the edge of their seats and reacted as if it were a defining moment.

One moment that brought both fans together was the actions of Barcelona’s Gerard Pique: every time he touched the ball, an apparent reaction to his split from pop superstar Shakira, going so far as to chant the singer’s name.

The evening even included a proposal in the stands at halftime, to which she said yes; someone blew an air horn in celebration.

Saturday night was a celebration for the fans at Allegiant Stadium. It was an opportunity to watch a game, see the players they love and experience first hand the clubs they are obsessed with. They didn’t treat it as an exhibition; for the more than 60,000 present it was just as important a classic how it could be. (Barca would win 1-0 on Raphinha’s first goal for the club since joining from Leeds United this summer.)

“It’s always important to play a classicsaid Barcelona defender Jordi Alba. “It’s a very special game and the atmosphere was spectacular with fans on both sides.

“We felt the love from the stands and it’s a pleasure to play these games in this great atmosphere.”

https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog-espn-fc-united/story/4707539/barcelona-vs-real-madrid-in-vegas-a-spectacle-befitting-the-clubs-status-and-fans-passion Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in Vegas

Emma Bowman

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