(Miami Herald) – Throughout its roughly 25-year history and several name changes, the multipurpose stadium never has hosted a soccer game as anticipated and publicized as the one that will grace the gridiron-and-diamond-grass-turned-pitch on Wednesday night: FC Barcelona, arguably the most star-studded and most popular team in the world, against Chivas de Guadalajara, arguably the best and most admired team in Mexico, in what is expected to attract the largest crowd in South Florida soccer history.
Barca has won two of the past three Champions League titles and is one of the most storied franchises in soccer history, and Chivas has won 11 Mexican First Division championships and finished second in South America’s Copa Libertadores last year. The first meeting between the clubs since 2008 will be carried on ESPN2, with kickoff set for 8:30â€‰p.m.
After Chivas finished its hourlong training session Tuesday morning, starting left back Miguel Angel Ponce, 21, sat in what is normally the Marlins’ dugout, looking out at the converted field. Ponce, who was born in Sacramento but moved to Tijuana as a young boy, looked around at the empty orange and blue stadiums seats, imagining them filled with fans. A smile came across his face.
â€œI always wanted to and dreamed of playing this kind of game, and I’m really looking forward to it,â€ said Ponce, who has ascended through Chivas’ developmental system and is one of the team’s rising stars. â€œI’m feeling a little bit nervous, maybe more than the normal level of nervous before a game. It’s going to be a good game.â€
Ponce will have the unenviable task of slowing Barca’s powerful front line known for its precision passing and possession style.
â€œThey are a very fast team that plays quick, and they work to touches,â€ Ponce said. â€œI’m going to try to do my thing, which is only what I know. We can do things and play a good game just by doing what we do well. We’ll try to do the best we can so we can win.â€
And make no mistake about it: Despite the â€œexhibitionâ€ being played in the middle of Guadalajara’s regular-season Primera Division schedule, which it has started 2-0, Chivas is trying to beat Barcelona. It won’t be an easy task â€” in the Herbalife World Football Challenge, European teams have a 9-0 advantage over those from North America, including international clubs and MLS squads.
â€œWe really want to win this one, because it’s against Barcelona,â€ Ponce said, noting that Chivas lost its first two games of the World Challenge to Real Madrid and Juventus. â€œWe will do the best we can to beat Barcelona â€” that’s the best team in the world, to me. We are good players too and a good team, and we want to show that.â€
Barcelona, on the other hand, is still in preseason preparation as it waits for the return of several players from their national teams and others recovering from injuries.
â€œWith these trips, you need everybody. And there’s a lot of players, but not everybody is going to get minutes,â€ Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said Monday at the team’s news conference. â€œThe behavior and performance that I’ve seen so far in the players this preseason has been positive. Overall, no complaints. We’re calmly preparing ourselves, waiting for everybody to rejoin the team.â€
Not all of Barca’s international stars will play Wednesday: Two-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi of Argentina, his Argentine World Cup teammate Javier Mascherano and Daniel Alves of Brazil aren’t on the travel roster, and midfielder Ibrahim Affelay of the Netherlands tore a muscle in his left thigh during Barca’s loss to Manchester United on Saturday. But 22-year-old Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez, the recent $53.5â€‰million transfer from Udinese, and Adriano, who rejoined the team Monday after playing in the Copa America, should see time.
Although Barcelona features incredible global appeal with its assortment of international stars â€” none from Mexico â€” Chivas’ roster fields players exclusively from Mexico.
â€œThat’s part of their culture of the team,â€ Guardiola said. â€œIt’s their decision, it’s their club, it’s their people, it’s their way. Just because it’s an old-time decision doesn’t mean it’s not modern.
â€œâ€¦ [Chivas has] changed their style a little bit, but they’ve always been a very competitive team. I was [in Mexico] for a little bit, and I enjoyed it. I lived it. They’re very dynamic players.â€
Source: Miami Herald