MIAMI — After watching his Real Madrid side lose its third consecutive game of the preseason, Zinedine Zidane was more than happy to give top marks to one element of Saturday's 3-2 Clasico defeat to Barcelona. The manager gave the fans a 10 out of 10.
Whether or not the match lived up to the hype around it depends on how much of the coverage you consumed. There was certainly plenty of it. But the fans in the stands were treated to a fun match filled with goals and scoring chances in addition to getting the lay eyes on the the star-studded lineups.
Zidane smiled and said he wouldn't change anything about his team's preseason preparations. Whether he's saying the same thing behind closed doors - or is too busy preparing frantically for a flurry of games starting August 8 with the UEFA Super Cup against Manchester United then continuing with a pair of Clasicos against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup - is doubtful, but his review of the experience rings true.
"The loss doesn’t matter that much to me. It always hurts, we don’t like to lose, but I don’t think it’s the most important right now," he said after the match. "Later, we do have things to change, yes. But that’s why we’re here. We’re here to work, but I wouldn’t change anything.
"It’s beautiful for all the fans who came to see the game. It’s a little worse for the team that loses, but I wouldn’t change anything."
The game looked like it was in danger of being a snoozer for anyone not wearing blue and red once Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic put the Blaugrana up 2-0 in the first seven minutes. But a quick comeback by Los Blancos brought the whole stadium, a mix of fans in which the Barca supporters slightly outnumbered their Madrid counterparts, back to life.
Gerard Pique finishing off another goal from Neymar's creation closed things out, though there were still plenty more opportunities to come. Even after the top players left the contest, the reserves found chances. The game ended with both clubs putting six shots on target, while Barca outshot Madrid generally by a 16-15 margin.
It's tempting to say the match didn't feel like a preseason game with the enthusiastic crowd and the majority of the teams' best players staying on the field for more than an hour. But truthfully, the game still did have a preseason feel. The defensive struggles to contain the individual brilliance, the missed chances even from stars like Neymar and Gareth Bale, and referee Jair Marrufo's brief spat with Rakitic all brought the fans out of the illusion that this game was one the players would be thinking about months, or even days, later. There was also the halftime show featuring Marc Anthony wearing sunglasses and belting out his top hits, something that doesn't typically feature at the Camp Nou.
Those same fans, though, probably have had a day they'll remember for years. The goals, the shots, the chances converted and missed, and seeing some of the best players the game has to offer are experiences that will stay in their memories.
"We’re satisfied in all ways, by the game and all the people who came to support our team," Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde said. "We knew Barca had international support but you have to live it. You have to come here and realize the atmosphere at the game, from the training session yesterday. We’re very happy."
Between the commercial success and the entertainment value, the popular sentiment that this may be a once in a lifetime chance for South Florida residents to see a Claisco may be misguided. La Liga is continuing to work to bring more matches to the United States and also is attempting to grow in the Asian market. While that may involve more than just Real Madrid and Barcelona, the rivals are the league's crown jewels and will continue to be the leaders for the league's expansion projects.
For now, nobody is complaining. Not Zidane, not Valverde, not the league, not the tournament and least of all the fans who will pack the stadium again if the opportunity arises.