Roma earned their first win of the International Champions Cup, beating Real Madrid 1-0 Tuesday night in the Cotton Bowl.
Francesco Totti scored the only goal of the match as the 37-year-old somehow continues to defy Father Time.
Heading into Dallas, both clubs were looking for a win. Roma lost, 3-2, to Manchester United last Saturday, while Madrid fell to Inter Milan in a penalty shootout.
Because they lost in a shootout rather than regulation, Madrid sat one point ahead of Roma in Group A. Tuesday night would be a great chance for either the Spanish giants to make up some ground on United and Inter or the Italian side to climb out of the bottom of the group.
Although the first half was scoreless, both clubs weren't without great opportunities in front of goal.
Real Madrid had the early edge in the first 20-25 minutes. They were having a lot of success on the counter, utilizing Gareth Bale's blinding speed to perfection.
In the 16th minute, Bale got on the end of a nice pass from Luka Modric. He unleashed a shot destined for the top corner, forcing Roma goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski to make the save at his near post.
Bale got in behind the Roma defense in the 20th minute. Lucas Vazquez delivered a dangerous ball into the box for the Madrid winger, but Mehdi Benatia made a last-ditch tackle to eliminate the threat. Bale had another shot in the 36th minute, but Ashley Cole was in the right place to block the effort.
Benatia made another great play in the 43rd minute, clearing the danger after Vazquez's shot was saved and Pepe tried to pounce on the rebound.
In general, the 27-year-old Moroccan international was a rock at the back for Roma, often stepping in front of Madrid through balls. ESPN FC's Julian De Martinis noticed a pattern throughout the first half:
Soccer broadcaster Janusz Michallik felt that Benatia was more than ready for the Serie A season to arrive:
He's one of the Roma players most rumored to be on the move, but manager Rudi Garcia made sure to let everyone know that the centre-back is off-limits.
"Benatia is under contract with Roma and will play with Roma," he said, per Goal's Martin Macdonald. "The club talks with all the players, not just with him. Benatia will remain in Rome"
Benatia's performance will likely only strengthen Garcia's resolve.
Most of Roma's more dangerous attacks came through Adem Ljajic.
He supplied Juan Iturbe with a great pass in the 30th minute, but the Argentine attacker made a mess of his shot.
With a nice piece of individual effort, Ljajic opened up a small window to goal seven minutes later, but again Roma couldn't make the most of it.
Madrid probably should've had a goal or two in the first half. They were the more dangerous side and created better scoring opportunities. However, the Roma defense—Benatia in particular—was more than up to the task.
Los Blancos will rue their missed chances, as the ageless wonder put Roma ahead early in the second half. In the 58th minute, the Giallorossi executed what was their best move of the match up until that point.
After a series of nice passing, the ball fell to the feet of Seydou Keita. The Malian midfielder fed Alessandro Florenzi on the right wing, who then found Totti with a wicked low cross into the 18-yard box. You'd back the Italian to finish the job nine times out of 10, and that's exactly what he did, sending his shot into the top left corner.
BeIN Sports broadcaster Ray Hudson used his typical prose to describe Totti's greatness:
Between the substitutions and Roma's switch to a more defensive style, the second half was largely without much excitement. Madrid saw most of their attacking moves snuffed out as soon as they crossed the halfway line, while the Giallorossi were content to sit back and protect their lead.
The most noteworthy moment of the second 45 came in the 87th minute, when a series of pitch invaders halted play, per Fox Soccer Trax:
For the next three minutes, stadium security and Dallas police struggled to cope with the onrushing fans, who seemed to flow from a never-ending stream. Right when one fan was being escorted off the pitch, another caught the camera's eye.
While we're not talking hundreds of fans, having even one supporter invade the pitch is too many, and it appeared at least eight to 10 fans were able to run around unabated for a time, high-fiving players and causing a nuisance.
Leander Schaerlaeckens of Fox Soccer thinks the problem is in not condemning pitch invaders enough and instead glorifying the act:
The North American Soccer Network's Trevor Hayward had a simple solution:
After that brief pause, Madrid threw everything forward in an effort to score and nearly surrendered a second goal. Goalkeeper Diego Lopez came forward on a Real Madrid free kick near goal, but the ball was headed away, and the referee blew the final whistle.
Roma will certainly be encouraged by the result. Getting a 1-0 win over the reigning European champions is impressive, even if it comes in a friendly.
For Madrid, there's no reason to get too upset. Carlo Ancelotti opted for a slightly weaker side once again. James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Cristiano Ronaldo were all missing. Nobody really knows what to expect out of Los Blancos until Rodriguez and Kroos insert themselves into the lineup.
Starting XI Grades
|Roma Starting XI Grades|
|Lineup via Fox Soccer|
|Real Madrid Starting XI Grades|
|Lineup via Fox Soccer|
Real Madrid finish up the group stage of the ICC against Manchester United on Aug. 2 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. According to American soccer writer Ives Galarcep, over 100,000 fans are expected to be in attendance.
Roma have Inter Milan in their last fixture of the ICC group stage. The match is scheduled for Aug. 2 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
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