LAS VEGAS – They’re at different points in their respective seasons, powers from opposite sides of the globe playing in a game with no points at stake.
But that doesn’t mean Santos Laguna is looking at Sunday’s friendly against Real Madrid (11 pm ET, Fox Soccer) as part of the Herbalife World Football Challenge like an inconvenience. They may have played Friday, drawing 2-2 against Puebla to record the first blemish of the 2012 Apertura season, but this is different.
This is Real Madrid, and even the most grizzled professional understands what it means to step on the same field as Los Merengues.
“When you please against a team like Real Madrid it doesn’t matter if it is at the beginning, in the middle or at the end [of the season],” goalkeeper Osvaldo Sanchez said. “I think it is a game to celebrate, a game to enjoy, and it is for the fans to have as well.”
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For a city not accustomed to welcoming European powers each summer – but completely at ease with showmanship and big names – the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas and an embarrassing number of other world-class talents is a treat unlike the traditional diversions that line the Strip.
And while the fans will certainly be happy to brave what are likely to be 90-plus degree temperatures, Santos understand that what they accomplish at Sam Boyd Stadium means more than moniker “friendly” denotes.
“I believe even though our season already started, this game [vs. Madrid] will serve us to see the real level of Santos Laguna,” Panamanian center back Felipe Baloy said, “and as I said, we will try to play a good game and do our best”.
Against Madrid, only their best will do.
Jose Mourinho’s side started their North American tour with a comprehensive 5-1 victory against another regional power, the LA Galaxy. Five different players scored for Real – Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel Di María, José Callejón, Morata and Jesé – as Mourinho played two separate squads that would match most throughout the world.
And although Santos are early in their season as well, currently sitting tied for second in the Apertura table on seven points after three matches, they will believe they have a chance of challenging, and even defeating, last season’s La Liga champions.
“It is a beautiful opportunity to play against one of the biggest teams in the world with great players in its squad,” Baloy said. We will try to enjoy it as much as we can.”