Lionel Sandjong will be in Las Vegas for just about 12 hours. He’s here to do one thing: Watch his beloved FC Barcelona play their biggest rivals, Real Madrid at Allegiant Stadium.
“This is the most watched soccer game in the world,” he said.
Barcelona defeated Real Madrid, 1-0, at Allegiant Stadium Saturday, in front of 61,299 fans as part of the 2022 Soccer Champions Tour. A first-half goal from Brazilian winger Raphinha was the difference in a tightly contested game.
Nothing was going to stop Sandjong from traveling to Saturday’s El Clasico. Currently living in Dallas, he missed his first flight to Las Vegas. He was undeterred though, and bought a second ticket just to make sure he made it before kickoff. His flight back to Texas is scheduled for 5 a.m. Sunday.
Jose and Nataly Delgado are Las Vegas residents. Jose went to the El Clasico match at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami back in 2017 with some friends. He emphasized how this particular rivalry is global. He said it’s a special feeling to watch El Clasico knowing millions of people around the world are following along, too.
This time though, he has the chance to share the experience with his eight-month-old daughter.
“She’s finally getting to see her first soccer game, so she’s excited,” he said.
The Delgados were in luck because both teams selected strong starting lineups. Friday was Real Madrid’s first game of their preseason tour, and they gave debuts to a pair of recent arrivals: French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and German defender Antonio Rudiger. Five of Madrid’s starters Friday also started the Champions League Final against Liverpool back in May.
Barcelona already played this preseason, most recently thrashing MLS side Inter Miami 6-0. However, Friday was the first chance for fans to see recent signing Robert Lewandowski in a Barcelona uniform, and the Catalan club named him to the starting lineup.
The 33-year-old Polish striker was officially signed from German Champions Bayern Munich for a reported $45 million July 19. He trained with the team in Miami but didn’t make an appearance in the game.
Lewandowski had the first scoring chance of the game, spinning away from Real Madrid defender David Alaba high up the field and leading a breakaway in the 11th minute. However, the defense recovered to force Lewandowski wide, and his shot was easily saved by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Madrid’s first chance came in the 18th minute. Uruguayan midfielder Federico Valverde found some space outside the penalty box and unleashed a shot, which beat Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. However, Valverde’s shot struck the crossbar and deflected out of bounds.
Despite Valverde’s chance, Barcelona controlled thegame early and it paid off in the 27th minute. They pressed deep into the Madrid half, and Real’s Brazilian defender Eder Militao tried to release the pressure with a cross-field pass.
His attempt was intercepted outside the penalty box by recent Barcelona signee Raphinha, who took a touch to settle the ball before blasting it into the top-left corner, giving Barcelona a 1-0 lead.
The game started to get chippy right before halftime. A Madrid counterattack led by Brazilian winger Vinicius Jr. abruptly ended when he was cut down by a hard challenge from Barcelona defender Jordi Alba, who earned a yellow card. Both teams came together and there was some shoving before things settled down.
Both teams made substitutions at halftime, though they were competitive ones. American defender Sergino Dest made an appearance in the second half. However, the game slowed down considerably.
Barcelona’s best chances came from French winger Ousmane Dembele, who had two shots denied by Courtois late in the game. Madrid almost equalized in the 59th minute, but Spanish forward Marco Asensio missed wide-left from about six yards away from the goal.