Soccer

Toronto fans pay homage to Real Madrid

Spanish superclub Real Madrid put on an entertaining display of the beautiful game against hometown Toronto FC on Friday night, much to the delight of a record crowd that turned out for perhaps the biggest soccer event ever to hit the city.

Soccer's version of the Beatles rolled into Toronto and left many awestruck fans in its trail.

Spanish superclub Real Madrid put on an entertaining display of the beautiful game against hometown Toronto FC on Friday night to the delight of a record sold-out throng of 22,089 at BMO Field.

The nine-time European champion beat the Major League Soccer side 5-1, but the result didn’t matter to the fans that came to see some of the game’s greatest stars.

"I thought it was awesome. Real Madrid is my favourite soccer team, so that’s the reason I came up here," said fan Sergio Murillo from Cleveland, Ohio.  "I thought they showed class.  I loved it, I loved every minute of it."

The fact the game was billed by some as the biggest soccer event to ever hit Toronto was not lost on anyone.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we had to come here," said Emily Salamanca, who travelled from Ottawa with her friend Mario Sanchez to see the 31-time Spanish league champions, billed by FIFA as the most successful club of the 20th century.

"I've been a hardcore Real Madrid fan since I was 10 years old," Sanchez added.

Stars draw stars

Among the celebrities in attendance were Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh, Phoenix Suns guard and Victoria native Steve Nash, Canadian military general Rick Hillier and Spain's ambassador to Canada.

Madrid's lineup is a who's-who of soccer's biggest stars with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul Gonzalez and Kaka.

"You have unbelievable players, you got Kaka, you got Ronaldo, you have all kinds of amazing talent and excellent soccer display," said Tony Pena of Toronto.

Hundreds waited before the match for Real Madrid 's bus to arrive at the stadium. When the team showed up, it was greeted by cheers and screams from adoring fans.

Ronaldo cheered

Once the game started, the admirers lapped up every minute, reacting to every stellar pass and each display of fancy footwork.

The one player everyone came to see was Ronaldo, the Portuguese scoring sensation.

The young superstar has recently made as much news off the field as on, with links to Paris Hilton helping to accomplish that.

It wasn't a surprise that the biggest cheers during the pre-game introductions were for him.

The cheers turned to boos during the game for the former Manchester United star as he was jeered — out of respect, perhaps — each time he touched the ball.

When Ronaldo was substituted for another star in Dutchman Arjen Robben in the 62nd minute, he was greeted with a standing ovation and thousands of camera flashes.

Millions in transfers

Ronaldo, who scored Madrid's second goal, was the major signing in Real Madrid's record off-season spending spree that saw the club spend the equivalent of a whopping $400 million in transfer fees on eight new players.

Of that, $145 million was for Ronaldo, not including the insurance on his legs, which cost another $162 million.

Toronto last hosted a marquee soccer match when Portugal's FC Porto faced Liverpool of England and Italy's AS Roma took on Celtic of Scotland during the Champions World Series event in 2004 at the Rogers Centre.

It had been five long years and the fans arrived armed and ready Friday.

Many were decked out in Ronaldo jerseys, whether Real Madrid, Manchester United or Portugal.

Those who weren't wore kits of Real Madrid, Spain, Portugal and, of course, Toronto FC.

"It's not every day you see a team like this come to Toronto," said fan Jeff Carvalho. "Toronto is getting discovered, we have a lot of European soccer fans here and this is one good spot to host a game like this."

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