Photo: Paul Rudderow
If you tuned in on TV or saw the Real Madrid – Celtic World Football Challenge match live, there was probably never a moment when you suspected the match was anything other than a friendly. On a steamy afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, the match played out much like you’d expect: both teams playing at a fairly languid pace with the Spanish Champions dictating the play and the Scottish Champions doing their best to stave off their attack.
In the end, it was two clinical goals on either side of half time for Madrid to assure a 2-0 victory in the final match of their US tour. José Callejón tallied in the first half and Karim Benzama added an insurance goal in the second to give Madrid the win. There was a bit of unfortunate drama halfway through the second period when Celtic youngster Dylan McGeouch went down with what looked like a serious head injury after a collision with Nuri Sahin.
Madrid started a strong side with the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Xabi Alonso, and Kaká all gracing the starting XI. Celtic, who have already started their Scottish and European campaigns, left home Georgios Samaras and Paddy McCourt amongst others and gave a number of young players a run out.
Early efforts from Ronaldo and Kaká were both saved by Celtic goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska. The first moment of real quality came in the 22nd minute when Xabi Alonso threaded a wonderful ball into Higuain on the top of the Celtic box. The striker was through on goal and had his initial shot blocked by Zaluska, but Callejón was in the perfect place to bundle home the rebound from three yards out.
Ronaldo had a fantastic chance to double the Madrid lead on 32 minutes when he found himself in space on the right side of the Celtic box. But his shot was straight at Zaluska and the keeper did well to get down and save from eight yards.
Midfielder Joe Ledley would have the best chance of the first half for Celtic. Picking up the ball just in front of the center circle, he drove straight down the center of the pitch at the Madrid back line. But even with the defenders retreating backwards at their own goal, Ledley could only fire his shot over the crossbar.
The second half began with another fantastic chance for Madrid to double their lead. The ever active Fábio Coentrão made a fantastic run from his left back position and found himself on the ball on the left side of the Celtic box. But his fierce effort from about 10 yards was straight at Zaluska, who saved well.
The Spaniards then began to ring in the changes, bringing in quality for quality to run at the tiring Scottish side. Karim Benzema, Mesut Özil and Ángel di María all joined the fray and the Spanish Champions really began to assert themselves over the game.
It would be Benzema who would finally find the breakthrough and double the lead for Madrid on 67 minutes. A long ball over the top found the French striker in acres of space down the left side. With only right back Adam Matthews to beat, Benzema twisted and turned the defender before cooly firing into the far post from eight yards.
It was shortly after that when Dylan McGeouch would collide with Nuri Sahin. Their was nothing dirty about the play, just an unfortunate coming together of players looking up at a ball that had popped into the air. McGeouch looked to be knocked out before he even hit the ground and fell to the pitch very hard. Players from both sides immediately signaled to the sideline to assistance as the young midfielder laid motionless on the pitch. He was eventually stretchered off after close to a 10 minute delay.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon would say after the match that McGeouch was taken to the hospital and that it appeared his jaw had been fractured.
The injury really sucked the life out of what was already a fairly languid match. Second half sub Angel DiMaria would have two chances to add some gloss to the scoreline as the final minutes played out. But his first attempt from 10 yards sailed over the bar and his second, a cheeky behind the leg shot, was well saved by Zaluska.
Talking to Celtic supporters on the subway ride home, their expectations of the game matched my own. No one seemed to expect the Scottish side to come in and boss around the top Spanish side, and those expectations were definitely met. But the Celtic youngsters held their own against the Spanish side and stayed organized and picked their moments on the attack.
The fact that Celtic has already started their league season and still chose to come across the pond to play a friendly on a hot Philadelphia afternoon should speak volumes about what you can expect from the Scottish Premier League this season with Rangers relegated to the fourth tier of football. Celtic can seemingly cruise their domestic league and concentrate on their European campaign while further building their already huge world wide brand.
For Madrid, their American tour can absolutely be considered a success. Large crowds in Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia saw the Spanish Champions defeat the Galaxy, A.C. Milan, Santos Laguna, and Celtic by the combined score of 14-3. They travel back to Europe to start their domestic campaign next weekend against Valencia.
CELTIC (4-4-2) Zaluska; Matthews, K. Wilson, Rogne, Izaguirre; McGeouch (Fraser 78), Kayal, Ledley, Mulgrew; Commons; Murphy (McGregor 33)
Not Used: Forster, Hooper
REAL MADRID (4-2-3-1) Adan (Casillas 46); Arbeloa (Varane 57) Ramos (Nacho Fernadez 57), Albiol, Coentrao (Sahin 71); Khedira (Granero 46), Alonso (Diarra 57) Callejon (Di Maria 57) Kaka (Benzema 46) Ronaldo (Ozil 57) Higuain (Morata 71)
Not Used: Pepe, Fernandez Collado, Rodriguez, A. Fernandez