Two hours before Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain took to the temporary, real-grass field at Ohio Stadium on Wednesday evening, about 500 people formed a four-deep wall around the nearby Blackwell Inn.
The excitement – and the well-behaved, selfie-taking, Real Madrid and PSG T-Shirt-wearing-crowd – was building quickly, and had an international flavor.
“I saw the crowds and the buses and heard that the Paris Saint-Germain players were coming out (of the Blackwell), and that the Real Madrid players were at another hotel down the street,” said Ohio State student and soccer fan Adam Spiesman.
Spiesman’s favorite player is James Rodriguez of Real Madrid, who also plays for the Columbian National Team. Nevertheless, he got caught up in all the excitement and joined the growing crowd waiting to watch the PSG players board the buses for the short drive to the Shoe.
Nathan Montanari, 15, and his twin brother, Josh, made the trip from Kent and joined the crowd at the not-so-secret exit behind the Blackwell.
“My favorite players is David Luiz,” Nathan said of the PSG forward who also plays for Brazil’s National Team. “He’s an overall fantastic player.”
The Shoe was jam packed with “overall fantastic players” and a record-breaking crowd of 86,641 soccer fans as PSG topped Ream Madrid 3-1 in a fast-paced game that featured plenty of skill, pinpoint passing and lots of scoring opportunities by both teams.
The attendance total smashed - and more than doubled – the Ohio record of 35,061 for a soccer game set earlier this month in Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium when Crystal Palace of the English Premier League beat Futbol Club Cincinnati 2-0. The Columbus record of 31,550 was on Sept. 15, 1996 when the Columbus Crew SC hosted New York at Ohio Stadium.
The attendance total on Wednesday might have topped 90,000, maybe even 100,000, if Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo had played. Unfortunately, Ronaldo, the world’s best and most popular player, along with Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona, was out due to a knee injury. Regardless, ICC vice president Kwame Bryan was “ecstatic” with the turnout.
PSG’s first goal was a Messi-like masterpiece of dazzling dribbling by Jonathan Ikone. The 18-year-old midfielder and up-and-coming star danced past five defenders and then slipped the ball under goaltender Francisco Casilla.
The second PSG goal was a Ronaldo-like, long-distance laser beam. Thomas Meunier pounced on a loose ball in the middle of the field, turned and unleashed a bullet into the upper-left corner of the net.
Meunier scored again on a breakaway. His initial shot bounced off a defender, and right back to the Belgian National Team member, who beat Casilla for a 3-0 PSG lead.
Marcelo Vieira Da Silva scored on a penalty kick just before the half to cut the PSG lead to 3-1. Da Silva also plays for Brazil’s National Team and is considered one of the best left backs in the world.
The game was part of the International Champions Cup organized by Relevant Sports. The 10-team lineup for the fourth edition of the ICC includes many of the top international clubs: Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City from England; Paris Saint-Germain; AC Milan and FC Internazionale from Italy; Real Madrid and Barcelona from Spain; Bayern Munich from Germany; Celtic FC from Scotland. PSG are the defending champions.
This is the first time the ICC has visited Columbus, which has a long and rich soccer history. The Columbus Crew SC are charter members of the MLS and the USA Men’s National Team is undefeated (8-0-3) at MAPFRE Stadium.
The PSG starting lineup included several National Team players: Thiago Silva and Lucas (Brazil), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay) and Javier Pastore (Argentina).
Despite the absence of superstars Ronaldo (Portugal) and Gareth Bales (Wales), the Real Madrid lineup was still dotted with National Team players such as Lucas Vazquez (Spain), Raphael Xavier Varane (France) and Martin Odegaard (Norway).
The sheer quantity and quality of all these great players is what makes PSG and Real Madrid two of the top club teams in the world. Think of them as the Yankees and Dodgers, the Celtics and Lakers, or even the Buckeyes and Wolverines, of international club soccer (or football).
“I’m a fan of great soccer, that’s why I’m here, and that’s Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain,” Spiesman said. “They’re two of the best teams in the world.”
The Montanari twins, who will be freshman at Kent Roosevelt High this year and will play on the soccer team, are also inspired by greatness and were in Columbus to see it up close.
“I’ve been to Crew games, but this is the first time to see a game of this level,” Nathan said. “The atmosphere, the intensity, is amazing.”