Real Madrid has T.O. fans in a tizzy

Fans enjoy the match between Real Madrid and Toronto FC. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

Fans enjoy the match between Real Madrid and Toronto FC. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:52 AM ET

So. That's what half a billion dollars looks like.

Real Madrid, the best soccer team money can buy, showed its class last night on the pitch.

Off it? Hey, this is pro sports. Nice guys finish behind Barcelona. So, Ronaldo looked dashing. Guti was setting up more scoring chances than Paris Hilton. Raul knocked home a header.

Madrid led 3-0 midway through the first half and for once a packed house didn't mind watching the home-boys get schooled. They came to watch Madrid dance -- and it did. Cameras flashed with every touch by the Spanish side.

Two hours before gametime and already soccer nuts were lining up dozens deep around the entrances. News vans lined the boulevard and everywhere were cops on foot, on horses, on bikes, backed up by black-suited security wearing sphinx-like expressions. Sort of the same look as the Madrid players when, at 6:15, the bus pulled up to deliver the most expensive, most famous soccer team on Earth.

Fans whistled pushing pens, soccer shoes, and shirts over barriers.

The players? Much like Thursday's press conference during which Iker Casillas and midfielder Guti looked like they were being interrogated by The Inquisition, the public's adulation went mostly unrequited. Karim Benzema allowed a short wave, there were some half-smiles. Mostly they were plugged into iPods.

They looked about as thrilled to be here as someone headed for a root canal. Understandable, if unfortunate. While this might be the biggest thing to Toronto sports since the Leafs last signed a fourth-line centre, this trip to the colonies is nothing more than an inconvenient necessity to Ronaldo and Co. so they can recoup some of the $400 million club president Florentino Perez has thrown at them recently.

Adulation they get everywhere. They didn't need to come all the way across the Atlantic to hear it.

So while most fans seemed quite happy to merely see their idols in the flesh, one could be heard to grumble: "Is that all we've been standing here waiting two hours for?" as the last player disappeared into BMO Field. Look. It's this way.

Real Madrid is soccer royalty. It has 1,800 fan clubs and amassed more titles than any football club on earth. Toronto FC are like your kid's Timbits team -- the only award they've gotten in MLS history reads "Participant".

So, for Kaka, Albiol and Benzema, playing Toronto is like asking the Blue Jays to play in some pasture in the middle of Saskatchewan. That happened, too. Sort of.

A team that would become world champions flew into Regina in mid-season for an exhibition at Taylor Field. The faces in the crowd that day were like those last night -- full of wonder and excitment.

The players? They couldn't get out of town quick enough.

Harsh maybe. But such is the way of professional sport.

Some of the best players ever to play the game have worn Madrid's famous white jersey. They have players who earn more than the entire TFC roster earns under the $2.3-million MLS salary cap.

Understandable then, that the excitement surrounding last night was pretty much one-sided.

Brazilian, Portuguese and Dutch flags mixed in with the Spanish colours for imports Kaka, Ronaldo and Van Nistelroy as the lineups were announced to a crowd that had paid up to $215 a ticket.

"You can buy a house for that in Detroit," sniffed one reporter drawn for a peek from the other, more bankrupt-prone side of the river.

Still, when it was over most folks seemed to be leaving with a grin and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment -- which it is believed could earn between $2 and $3 million on the event -- had found one more way to goose the bottom line.

Toronto FC, meantime, can get back to more mundane matters.

You know, like actually making the playoffs.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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