The Miami Dolphins open their season Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, and they can only hope the atmosphere will be as electric as it was Friday night, when a sellout crowd of 65,232 rocked the building as the national soccer teams of Brazil and Colombia tied 2-2 in an exhibition game.
Hours before the match, a sea of yellow-clad fans danced and dribbled soccer balls in the parking lots in anticipation of the showdown between the South American rivals, two of the best teams in the world.
Brazil, led by international superstar Neymar, is No. 2 in the latest FIFA rankings and Colombia is No. 8. When the teams last played in Miami in 2014, they drew a record crowd of 73,429 (the stadium had a larger capacity before renovations).
Most of the pre-game hype centered around Neymar, who was playing his first match since injuring his ankle three months ago. He has been in the news all summer, as he was hoping to head back to Barcelona from Paris Saint Germain, but the transfer never happened.
Brazil scored first Friday night in the 19th minute, off a Casemiro header from a Neymar corner kick. Neymar, who played the whole game, scored from close range in the 58th minute off a nice feed from captain Dani Alves. But it was Colombian forward Luis Fernando Muriel of Italian club Atalanta who stole the spotlight in the first half.
Muriel scored both goals for Los Cafeteros. The first was a penalty kick in the 24th minute to tie the game 1-1 after being kicked in the chest by Brazilian Alex Sandro. Ten minutes later, Muriel gave Colombia a 2-1 lead with a perfectly-placed shot from the right side of the box. Duvan Zapata, a teammate of Muriel’s at Atalanta, got the assist. The play began with a nice cross from Roger Martinez.
It appeared Neymar would get a chance to score again late in the game, when he was shoved out of bounds by Davinson Sanchez, but the referee did not call a penalty kick.
Neymar was just one of the standouts in Brazil’s starting 11, which also included goalkeeper Ederson (Manchester City); defenders Dani Alves (Sao Paulo FC), Marquinhos (Paris Saint Germain), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint Germain); midfielders Casemiro (Real Madrid), Arthur (Barcelona), Coutinho (Bayern Munich); and forwards Firmino (Liverpool), Richarlison (Everton).
“Brazil just won the Copa America, so I think we’re going to come out full throttle,” Brazilian fan Joao Montarroyos of Miami said before the game. “I think the Brazil team used to be too Neymar-dependent, but now it is more of a squad and a well-oiled machine. The coach, Tite, has been doing a phenomenal job. Every time Brazil plays Colombia it’s an amazing atmosphere. It’s a South American rivalry, so it’s great to be here and I hope we get the `W.’
Montarroyos’ girlfriend, Maria Alvarez, is from Colombia, and was excited to see her team play.
Colombia coach Carlos Queiroz, who was missing stars James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, went with a mix of veterans and young talent. David Ospina (Napoli) started in goal; and the rest of the lineup was Stefan Medina (Monterrey), Muriel (Atalanta), Wilmar Barrios (Zenit Saint Petersburg), William Tesillo (Leon), Zapata (Atalanta), Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Juventus), Yerry Mina (Everton); Mateus Uribe (Porto), Martinez (America), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham).
Colombia will be back at Hard Rock Stadium Nov. 15 for a match against Peru.