June 23, 2012
NOT MESSI-ING AROUND
Stars come out to help Argentina star's found and play to a wild 7-7 draw
By Michael Lewis
MIAMI GARDENS -- They came. They entertained and they scored.
Ah, if only every soccer game could be like this one.
Some of the world's biggest names in soccer came to a drenched Sun Life Stadium on Saturday night and put on a show to an appreciative crowd of 48,327.
With Lionel Messi, the brightest light of all the stars leading the way with a hat-trick and two assists, the Black Masters came back from a two-goal deficit late in the exhibition match for a 7-7 draw. Uruguayan standout Luis Suarez almost stole the show with a hat-trick of his own for the Red Stars.
Barely a minute after Edison Cavani had lifted the Red Stars to a 7-6 lead in the 88th minute, former Argentine great Ariel Ortega came back with one of his own for the Black Masters to tie this wild affair, which almost had more scoring than indoor soccer.
It wasn't only about soccer. Many players decided to participate because the game was for a good cause -- Messi's foundation.
"It's an honor for me to be here among all these players and all these important managers," said former Chelsea striker and Ivory Coast star Didier Drogda said on Friday night. I think tomorrow's important as well because it supports a foundation. What it's doing, it's very important to speak about it because it supports kids. Kids are the future. I think most of us here we have kids. It's important what it's doing its great. My foundation I try to help as well. What they're doing ...is unbelievable. I encourage a lot people to do the same. It's going to be a good game. We're going to have fun and try to win."
The same thing went for U.S. international captain Carlos Bocanegra, who played the entire 90 minutes for the Red Stars.
Bocanegra said it was "awesome just to be out here with all the big players like this. Superstars. It was great."
When he was invited, Bocanegra said it was an offer he could not turn down.
"It was a great gesture," he said. "All these guys showed up for Messi's foundation. It shows how big a star he is. For me to be a part of it, it was an honor."
With the game barely five minutes old, the heavens opened up. The rain, combined with a constant wind, did make for the best of field conditions.
Not surprisingly, Messi started off the scoring with a brilliant goal, slicing a 22-yard effort past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the seventh minute for the Black Masters.
It did not take long for the Red Stars to equalize as Suarez chipped a short shot into the net past goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto in the 13th minute.
The Red Stars took the lead in the 26th minute as Radamel Falcao took advantage of a Black Master defensive error in the penalty area and handily slotted the ball home.
Only three minutes later, an Argentine tied it up for the Black Masters at 2-2, but it wasn't Messi. Diego Milito, who found himself one on four in the penalty area, managed to beat his marker and Ochoa from close range.
Even the near misses were spectacular as former Dutch international and A.C. Milan star Clarence Seedorf seared a long-range blast that skimmed the crossbar in the 32nd minute.
The Argentine connection continued as Messi tallied his second of the night, tapping in a pass from close-range for a 3-2 Masters lead in the 33rd minute.
Messi did not score the Black Masters' fourth goal, but he did play a vital role setting it up. This time the Barcelona superstar came down the left side side, gave and gave Ezequ?iel Lavezzi a pass. Lavezzi then found an open Didier Drogba, who had an easy time tapping the ball home in the 42nd minute.
Suarez connected twice with a two-minute to equalize the match at 4-4. He closed the gap in the 51st minute, snapping an 18-yard shot into the net. Some two minutes later, Pinto saved the Uruguayan's first effort, but could not stop the rebound from the marksmen to deadlock the match.
James Rodriguez broke the tie in the 75th minute, boosting the Red Stars a 5-4 advantage, slotting theball into the lower right corner of the net.
Only two minutes later, Nene boosted the Red side to a two-goal advantage, taking a short pass from Suarez and blooping the ball into the net.
The Black Masters were far from finished as Venezuelan Jose Rondon scored in the 83rd minute. Messi had a shot blocked. Instead of taking another shot, Messi sent the ball to Rondon on the other side of the penalty area and the South American powered in a header from point-blank.
A minute later, Messi did decide to shoot and it paid off with an 18-yard drive for a 6-6 tie.
As it turned out, the game was far from finished.