Real Madrid draws 18,000 for Toronto practice
Soccer royalty leaves fans breathless
Real Madrid sure knows how to draw a crowd.
More than 18,000 fans filed BMO Field Thursday night to catch a glimpse of soccer royalty and watch the Spanish club practise ahead of its exhibition game against Toronto FC on Friday.
Rabid soccer spectators hooted and hollered at the top of their lungs, especially every time reigning FIFA world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo touched the ball, as los Galacticos strolled through their paces during the 55-minute training session.
Afterward, Real Madrid players kicked souvenir balls into the stands, much to the delight of the adoring fans.
"It was totally worth the [$15] price of tickets to see them practise," one fan told CBCSports.ca.
Friday evening's game between the nine-time champions of Europe and Toronto FC is billed as an international friendly, but newly hired Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini views the contest as a vital test for his team as it prepares for the start of the Spanish league season, set to kick off on Aug. 30.
Kaka, Alonso to debut in Toronto?
Coach Manuel Pellegrini hinted that two of his newest superstars — Kaka and Xabi Alonso — could make their respective debuts for Real Madrid Friday night in Toronto.
Madrid bought Kaka, the 2007 FIFA world player of the year, from AC Milan after shelling out a $101 million Cdn transfer fee, but the Brazilian playmaker hasn’t made a single appearance in any of the Spanish club’s pre-season games this summer.
Alonso returned to his native Spain by officially joining Real Madrid on Tuesday following a transfer move from English side Liverpool.
Will either one of them take to the field Friday against Toronto FC?
"I’ll make my decision on the lineup tomorrow but there is a big possibility for both of them to play their first game for Real Madrid," Pellegrini told reporters Thursday.
Toronto FC’s agreement with the Spanish powerhouse calls for all of the team's summer transfers (includig Kaka, Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo) to play at least 45 minutes of Friday’s game, barring injury.
"It's an opportunity to evaluate the new players and it gives them a chance to adapt to each other, to gel and develop the right understanding between each other," the Chilean tactician said through a translator.
Indeed, los Blancos have been busy this summer, spending close to $400 million in transfer fees on a host of new players, including Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and Alvaro Arbeloa.
Last season a disappointment
That massive financial outlay came in response to a disappointing 2008-09 season for Madrid, which finished a respectable second place in the Spanish first division, but crashed out of the Champions League in the second round following a humiliating loss to Liverpool.
What's more, Madrid had to watch in horror as bitter rivals FC Barcelona recorded a historic treble, winning the Spanish league championship and Spanish Cup, as well as being crowned champions of Europe.
Pellegrini was brought in during the off-season, replacing Juande Ramos (who himself replaced former coach Bernd Schuster last December) and charged with the responsibility to lead Madrid back to the top of the heap in Spain and in the Champions League, which they last won in 2002.
Winning isn't enough, though, as Pellegrini admitted that it's just as important for Real Madrid to win with style, and play an attacking and entertaining brand of soccer.
"The first challenge is to win. If you accept the responsibility of coaching Real Madrid, you have to win every competition you play in," the Chilean said. "The other challenge is the responsibility of playing a style of soccer that will allow us to satisfy and entertain the fans each week."
Going after Barcelona
With a slew of new high-priced stars joining a team littered with long-time servants such as Raul, Guti and Iker Casillas, Pellegrini believes his side can duplicate Barcelona's treble feat from a season ago.
"I'm very satisfied with the team. Not only with the new additions but also the [veteran players] that make up the base of Real Madrid," Pellegrini said. "I'm confident that we go into all three competitions and compete at the highest level."
Despite the obvious gap in class between Real Madrid, one of the best clubs in world soccer, and Toronto FC (who currently sit fourth in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference), the Spanish side don't plan to take their Canadian opponents lightly.
"In the end, it's 11 players against 11 players on the field. I think we'll show a lot of attacking mentality and hopefully produce some goals," Guti said.