Yesterday, I went to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri to watch Real Madrid v. Inter Milan. We left our hotel in downtown St. Louis at 11:30, 90 minutes before the game to try and beat the pregame traffic. Well, that didn't exactly happen; a short 10 mile drive took half an hour and finding parking was ridiculously hard. At first, I was frustrated, but then I realized this must be a good omen because it meant Real Madrid must have lots of brand recognition in the states. We parked next to the St. Louis Arch which meant we had about a half mile walk to the stadium. On the way there I saw the Sea of White. Almost every person had on either a Real Madrid home jersey or a white t-shirt on; we counted a grand total of 3 people wearing Inter jerseys. Ronaldo 7 jerseys were the most commonly worn (surprise Florentino) with Kaka in second. Ozil, Ramos and Casillas (especially Ozil) were the most next most commonly worn jerseys. The amount of people, especially girls, wearing Ozil's 10 came as a surprise to me; I didn't expect him to have that big of a following/recognition*.
*I should've listened to Ireland when he said girls on Tumblr love Ozil.
Anyways, back to the game. We entered the stadium and found our seats by 12:30. We moved as far forward till we reached the barriers to snap some pictures of the pre-match training. Our seats were in the first tier behind one of the goals which meant we were behind Inter, not Madrid, and had to watch them train. I snapped a few photos but was generally disinterested as the Madrid players were still in the locker room. At this point, I was still amazed there were 20 or so professional footballers practicing less than 20 feet away from me. But then, the moment Cristiano Ronaldo jogged out of the tunnel with Morata, Carvajal and Kaka in tow, the stadium exploded to life (and I came out of my daze). A cacophony of screams, cheers and applause met Los Blancos as they ran out of the tunnel and into the view of the spectators. Like I said before, the Madrid players were warming up on the opposite side of the pitch, so the view wasn't optimal, but I did manage to snap a some photos (albeit slightly blurry) of the team shown below:
A shot of the Madrid keepers beginning their warm ups. Casillas appears to be on the right holding the ball while Lopez is in goal.
Ronaldo was the crown jewel to the crowd:
And here's one of the starting lineups:
Finally, a view of the stadium from our seats:
Soon, the match began. Partly because the stadium had a roof and partly because the crowd was excited, it became a little complicated to hear who was starting as the announcer spoke their names. Except for Sergio Ramos and a few others (Kaka & Ronaldo), I had to wrack my brain to connect kit numbers with player names. (The Arbeloa as a LB came as a surprise when Twitter confirmed my suspicions) Quickly enough, I figured out Lopez, Ramos, Carvajal, Modric, Kaka, Morata and Ronaldo would be starting; from there I just had to fill in the holes by watching the players as they attacked Inter's goal, which they did a lot. The match had the feel of a friendly as many times the players chose to go for an extra pass, hold the ball a second longer or not press as quickly as they would if it were a group stage match of the Champions League or a league game. However, it was still very enjoyable as everyone going clearly wanted to have a good time and see some exciting football.
And now the moment you've all know I have to include: Kaka's goal. I don't know how lucky I must've been to see it. 10 minutes into the game, Kaka picked up a wonderful cross (from Di Maria?) and attempted a cool shot into the bottom right corner of the goal. Samir Handanovic saved it, but had no time for the brilliant diving header Kaka scored with next. My favorite player was giving a great performance to a very jubilant crowd and I was right behind the very goal he scored it. The only possible way it could've been better was if Ronaldo gave him a defense splitting pass on a counterattack and Kaka proceeded to score from a banana kick while on the edge of the box. At first I was excited, so bloody excited one might've thought I'd gone mad! I was watching the Real Madrid play, I was sitting right behind one of the goals and my favorite player had just scored the game opener right in front of my eyes! But as I lifted my camera to snap as many pictures inhumanely fast, I saw something I didn't think I'd see: defeat. After scoring, Kaka didn't pick himself up, lift his fingers to the heavens and run with happiness coursing through his veins to the corner flag; he lay on the ground with a look of sadness. He kneeled in front of the crowd, as if he were asking for forgiveness. This was a sharp contrast to the usual jubilance shown in Kaka's celebrations after scoring; it didn't matter whether the team was Ajax, Valladolid or Deportivo. Then on his way back after scoring, he kept his head bowed as if in shame and slowly trundled along while Casemiro put his arm around his shoulder and spoke to him. I don't know if I'm looking too far into one non-celebration (maybe he bumped his head on the fall or maybe his head was spinning too much in excitement to smile), but it's gotten me thinking that Kaka will be sold this summer. I know there hasn't been any concrete interest, heck there haven't even been any far-fetched rumors, but I think it's going to happen. Kaka's repeatedly stated he wants to stay to prove himself to us, but it looked as if the pride which motivated his statements had left him. He looked like a man who had lost the object he most loved, a broken man...
To pass some time after the goal (and to remove the troubling thoughts arising in my head), I started some conversations with the people sitting next to me. There was a group of 6 or 7 people sitting in the row behind us who were really into the game. By really, I mean they were chanting, slightly intoxicated and jumping out of their seats whenever a (Real Madrid) player completed a good pass or attempted a shot on goal. As it would turn out (Don- I know you'll get a kick out of this) they were from Spain and had come to see Madrid play Chelsea and Inter; I don't think they were socios, but they did hold Madridista cards. Some of the women had sewn 9 or 10 miniature Spanish flags and they strung them across the back wall (underneath the box suites). One guy had an Iniesta jersey on (it was of the NT so don't worry) and clearly liked the Spanish players more than others- he really wanted Ancelotti to put on Isco and Illarramendi. Sergio Ramos was by far their favorite player on the pitch though, every time he received the ball a loud cheer erupted from them. They did however get real happy with Ronaldo's goal though so I don't think they were anti-Portuguese or anything like that. Which brings me to the next great point of the match: Ronaldo's amazing one-time goal. The pass from Casemiro was something, he must've been staying back after hours in Valdebebas because that was the type of pass that makes Ozil jealous. It went straight to Ronaldo who coolly finished on his first touch without breaking stride. Watching him score on TV is something, but seeing it in person is something else. The moment the ball left his foot, I knew it had to go in. I wasn't fast enough with my camera to get Ronaldo celebrating, but I did get a photo of him walking back and a few others:
Once the second half started, I got a better look at our defense. Let me join the Carvajal fans because he is amazing! He could move forward into attack and get back into position when Inter counterattacked, he made some great tackles, in general he's everything you want in a fullback*. Then, I got to see what all the hype about Diego Lopez was about; my god, he is a bloody good shot-stopper. He had many top class saves and his distribution was very good. We were still iffy on set pieces, (we needed Carvajal's amazing reaction time to save a certain goal from a corner) but we managed not to concede from one which was definitely an improvement. Lastly, I need to comment on the pitch invaders. Security in the Edward Jones Dome was a joke. There were at least 5 runners who ran onto the pitch at the same time and after catching them, there was no increase in the amount of stewards patrolling the grounds. In fact, a little girl who couldn't be more than 7 ran from the stand I was in all the way to the bench (with no security following her) and made it in time to hug her idol, Cristiano Ronaldo. Until the first runner entered the field at around the 60th minute, the crowd was getting a little bored, but once the first person ran on, they sprung back to life. The cheers and applause the pitch invaders received was thunderous; the boos the cops got after catching them was mind boggling. The whistling and booing at the cops made it sound like we were in a beehive. By the end of the game, people were just hopping off the stands and running into the tunnel with the players, in other words, it was complete chaos. It was only a small, 5 foot drop from the stands to the pitch and we were behind the photographers so there were no stewards patrolling our side; running onto the pitch was as easy as pie.
*I still like Arbeloa though, I don't want him sold.
Like I said, Kaka was a fan favorite.
Notice the man in blue in the background casually strolling and holding what appears to be his camera? The cops don't.
Well, this wraps up my FanPost, which I actually enjoyed writing. Seeing my favorite team play live was definitely an experience of a lifetime. I check seeing Real Madrid play off my list-of-important-things-to-do, now I've just got to get a good job after college, go to the Bernabeu (and see them play there), go to Anfield and meet Ronaldo, Kaka and few others (though not necessarily in that order). I'll wrap this up with a few miscellaneous photos I haven't yet shared.
There's that famous Kaka smile we all love