Game time was two hours away and already horns honked incessantly and gigantic Brazilian and Honduran flags flapped from car windows as traffic backed up outside Sun Life Stadium late Saturday afternoon. In the parking lot, hip-wiggling samba dancers in giant feather headdresses and little else drew crowds with cellphone cameras.
By the time the national teams of Brazil and Honduras took the field, and the pregame fireworks show was over, 71,124 fans — the largest crowd ever to watch a soccer match in Florida — had nearly filled the stadium. The party was just getting started.
Brazil played like a five-time World Cup champion and outclassed Honduras 5-0 on goals by one-named stars Bernard, Dante, Maicon, Willian, and Hulk.
Bernard, the smallest man on the field at 5-foot-4, scored the lone goal of the first half, and Brazil’s final three goals were scored in a seven-minute span. The most famous Brazilian player, Neymar, went scoreless. But he assisted on Dante’s goal, displayed some fancy footwork, and went rolling to the ground so many times the Barcelona coaches and officials were surely cringing if they were watching the match back in Spain.
South Florida soccer aficionados who can’t make it to Brazil next summer for the World Cup got a taste of what it might feel like at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The crowd – which included Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima -- nearly spilled over the upper lip of the stadium, and it roared with every Brazilian goal.
David Beckham was in town earlier in the week scouting venues for a Major League Soccer franchise, and he requested tickets for Saturday’s match, according to a stadium official. But it was unclear whether he attended. Even if he didn’t, he will likely note the attendance figure.
Saturday’s crowd bettered the 70,080 that showed up at Sun Life for Barcelona vs. Chivas in August 2011 and the 67,273 that came on Aug. 7, 2013 for Real Madrid vs. Chelsea.
“We were thrilled to hear tonight’s attendance,” said Charlie Stillitano, CEO of Relevent Sports. “This was an incredible event for the community, especially for fans of Brazil and Honduras. Tonight’s crowd and the great attendance for the Guinness International Champions Cup this past August demonstrates the drawing power of soccer in South Florida.”
Tens of thousands of Honduras were in attendance. Many of them had flown in from Honduras, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. Their team last month qualified for the World Cup, and was eager to show it belongs alongside the world’s elite.
Before the game, Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez said his team would “see what we’re made of,” against Brazil. “It’s necessary to have the ball to have a chance against Brazil. We want to make them uncomfortable. The result is secondary. The important thing is for Honduras to play well.”
The Hondurans played well in stretches, and their physicality gave Brazil some trouble, but the Brazilians possessed the ball more, and dominated the second half.
Dante made it 2-0 in the 55th minute when he headed in a Neymar free kick. The ball rolled under the leg of Honduran Carlos Costly and past goalkeeper Noel Valladares.
Scolari rested David Luiz, Neymar, Oscar, and Maxwell after the 60th minute, and called in subs Marquinhos, Hulk, Ramires, and Luca Leiva. That’s when the flurry of goals occured.
Maicon scored in the 65th minute. Valladares deflected a header and an unmarked Maicon retrieved it near the far post and tapped it in. Four minutes later, newcomer Willian, who plays for Chelsea, scored on a short cross from Hulk. Then it was Hulk’s turn in the 73rd minute, off a Robinho pass.
Brazil outshot Honduras 18 to six, and had seven corner kicks to Honduras’ two.
“This is not the type of result we expected,” said Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. “It could just as easily have been a close game. We took advantage of our opportunities in the second half. We have a young team, and this was a good opportunity for them to move forward.”
Said Suarez: “Our team has a lot to offer. I am confident in the ability of Honduran football. We’ll forget this very fast and evaluate and try to learn from it.”
Brazil travels to Toronto to face Chile on Nov. 19, and Honduras plays against Ecuador in Houston on that same night.