Nearly 30,000 see Real Madrid win exhibition in Las Vegas

Every time he touched the ball, they shrieked. And when Cristiano Ronaldo actually made an attempt at scoring, the decibel count rose to Beatles-esque proportions.

Did the Las Vegas soccer fans love the charismatic Real Madrid star forward? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ronaldo did his best to satisfy the announced crowd of 29,152 on Sunday at Sam Boyd Stadium, many of them clad in white No. 7 Real jerseys. When it was over, the World Football Challenge match between Real Madrid and Santos Laguna ended with Ronaldo and Los Blancos coming out on top, 2-1.

But Santos came away feeling like winners.

"I’m very pleased with the performance of my team," Santos coach Benjamin Galindo said. "I want us to aim for victory every time we play."

The Real Madrid players bypassed the media mixed zone after the game without comment as did coach Jose Mourinho. But Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka said afterward: "We’re growing every day. It was a physical game and a tough game. Santos came prepared and they played well."

While Ronaldo was the focus of most everyone’s attention and desire, it was a big night for Las Vegan Herculez Gomez. The Santos star forward who played club soccer for Neusport FC and later starred at Las Vegas High School, had his share of support. He had a golden opportunity to score in the 35th minute, but his shot went just wide of the right goalpost.

"It was great to come back and play in front of such a big crowd," said Gomez, who found himself the recipient of a yellow card in the 66th minute after getting a little too physical and was subbed for eight minutes later. "We earned a lot of respect. But you could see they’re still a very dangerous team."

It was billed as a friendly match, but the intensity was ratcheted up early on. It was a physical game throughout and Ronaldo himself was not immune to getting knocked around. Santos was not about to lay down and play the role of the awestruck opponent. This wasn’t Nigeria against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the current U.S. Olympic basketball team.

"Nowadays, there’s no friendly games," Galindo said. "We wanted to win as much as they did."

Gomez said that the competitiveness of both teams was evident.

"We weren’t going to back down from them," he said. "We know how good they are, but I think they found out how good we are. But you have to put things in perspective. We just played a game 36 hours ago and we were still beat up from the other night."

The skill level of both teams managed to peek through the rough play. Real Madrid opened the scoring in the 14th minute when a miscommunication between Xabi Alonso and Esteban Granero had left a moment of indecisiveness on the part of the Santos defense. Alonso took control of the loose ball and saw he had an opening, despite being 35 yards out.

He unleashed a rocket off his right foot that curled away from Santos goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez and into the net.

The 1-0 lead held up for 12 minutes. Santos tied it on a pretty play that saw Daniel Luduena put a through ball into open space toward the left post, which Cristian Suarez ran onto. A couple of dribbles later, he was one-on-one with Real goalie Iker Casillas and Suarez finished smartly to tie it.

It remained that way until the 72nd minute when Sami Khedira redirected Karim Benzema’s one-time ball into the penalty area and beat Sanchez from 12 yards out to give Real Madrid a 2-1 lead.

Santos had one golden opportunity to pull even late as Oswaldo Alanis dribbled in one-on-one with Real backup goalie Antonio Adan in the 81st minute. But Alanis was unable to beat Adan and Real stayed in front.

Daren Libonati, the president of Justice Entertainment Group which helped promote Sunday’s match in Las Vegas, said he didn’t know the actual number of tickets sold. But he said to have 29,000-plus was a sign the city is ready to support soccer.

"I’m thrilled with the turnout," he said. "We got everything we wanted – a great game with great stars played in front of a big crowd. It was perfect."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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