The International Champions Cup preseason kicked off Saturday night at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A near-capacity crowd of over 80,000 fans saw two high-level teams have at each other in a match that wasn’t decided until the final moments. Only during penalty time, when Juventus midfielder Rolando Mandragora’s lefty 35-yarder flew harmlessly wide left was Barcelona’s 2-1 victory secure.
The tight final score would have come as a surprise to anyone who turned away at halftime. Barcelona’s dominance of the first 45 minutes of play was the early story of the match. Neymar and Lionel Messi combined to keep Juventus on their heels and out of the scoring territory for the balance of the half. Twice the dominance translated to Barca goals.
Just 15 minutes into the match Neymar got a tally on the board. His right footed close-in shot found the top right corner of the goal. Paco Alcacer was credited with the assist and the Barcelona portion of the raucous crowd went into celebratory mode. Juventus goal minder Gianluigi Buffon’s effort to deflect was in vain.
Just 11 minutes later, the electrifying Neymar was to strike again! This time assisted by Messi, Neymar’s right foot connected once more, this time into the lower left box. Though the first half scoring was complete at that time, the quick succession onslaught was enough to send Juventus into halftime with a decided droop to their shoulders. Their fans attempted an encouraging song or two, but they fell as short as their team had fallen in the opening stanza.
Juventus’ Head Coach Massimiliano Allegri may have exhorted his boys with a fiery intermission speech. For sure, though, he put a stronger squad on the pitch for the second half. In either case, his team comported themselves in a more competitive manner in the second half. Paulo Dybala at forward, Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado on the wing, and Alex Sandro at left-back were the changes Allegri made that seemed to turn the tide. Barca dominated time of possession in the first half. It was nearly equal in the second half.
The Juventus spiritual improvement that was the second half wouldn’t turn out to matter in the final outcome. However, it would help them get on the board. After Dybala’s lefty try from the box was saved by Barca goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, Juventus was awarded the ball for a corner kick. Giorgio Chiellini scored shortly, thereafter, assisted by a cross from Dybala.
The intensity on the pitch and in the stands ramped up following Chiellini’s header that halved the margin. Juventus nearly scored the equalizer at the 76-minute mark. Following a Barcelona foul by Luis Suarez, Sandro hit Gonzalo Higuain with a deft cross. Higuain had a good look at the back of the goal. Alas, though, he got under the ball. It was to sail harmlessly high over the net, and the one-goal margin was intact.
Until Mandragora’s attempt at end-of-match heroics, the rest of the second half was a matter of Barcelona re-establishing pitch dominance. Sergi Roberto had a great chance to score Barcelona’s third goal, and Suarez came within an eyelash from just outside the box. Neither effort turned into a goal, but it kept the ball in Barca’s attacking zone, leaving their goal-keeper satisfactorily lonely.
Barcelona continues the International Champions Cup pre-season tour of the United States Wednesday night, when they battle Manchester United at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. That match begins at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Both ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes will televise Wednesday’s match. Saturday night Real Madrid will provide the opposition for Barcelona. Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium will host that match. The same two ESPN entities will provide coverage.
Actually, fans in Florida will get a double dose of high-level action this week, as Juventus comes to Sun Life Stadium (where the Miami Marlins baseball team calls home) Thursday night, Paris-Saint Germain provides the opposition. The match begins at 7:30 p.m. ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes will be on hand.