Snowbirds are not the only ones who flock to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton in January. Many of the world’s best soccer teams and players like to vacation and train in South Florida during their winter break, as well.
Over the next two weeks, fans here have a rare opportunity to see 10 international teams live: German club Schalke 04, Brazilian clubs Corinthians, Fluminense, Internacional and Atletico Mineiro, and Colombian clubs Santa Fe, America, Cali, Nacional and Medellin. For those who want to drive to Orlando, Bayer Leverkusen of Germany and Shakhtar of Ukraine also will be playing.
The teams are in Florida for two events — a four-team Colombian exhibition at FIU Stadium on Wednesday and Saturday, and the Florida Cup, a training tournament in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton featuring teams from Germany, Brazil and Colombia and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
European and South American teams are playing more exhibitions in the United States to expand their brands. The climate in Florida this time of year makes it the perfect venue for such matches.
The first Colombian doubleheader is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at FIU and features a Cali-Medellin match followed by Nacional-America. On Saturday, Medellin plays Nacional at 4 p.m., followed by America-Cali.
Also Wednesday, Schalke takes on Atletico Mineiro at 6:30 p.m. at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. FAU Stadium hosts Sunday’s Florida Cup doubleheader between Mineiro and Corinthians at 2 p.m., followed by Strikers-Santa Fe. Brazilian teams Fluminense and Internacional play Jan. 20 at Lockhart Stadium, and the Strikers face Corinthians on Jan. 23 at Lockhart.
Looking ahead, the Mexican national team plays Senegal in a friendly Feb. 10 at Marlins Park. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who is 2-0 since taking over the Mexican team a few months ago, will be in Miami on Monday promoting the event.
In other words, turn off your TV and get off your sofa. Plenty of high-level international soccer right here in our backyard.
▪ Messi to win Ballon D’Or? The FIFA Ballon D’Or (gold ball) trophy for the world’s best player will be awarded Monday in Zurich. As usual, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the three finalists. They have created a duopoly since 2007, when Brazilian Kaká won the prestigious award.
Since then, Ronaldo has won three (2008, 2013, 2014), and Messi won four in a row from 2009 to 2012. This year, Messi is expected to win his fifth. The 28-year-old Argentine who stars for Barcelona scored 52 goals and had 26 assists in 2015. His team won the treble — the Champions League title, La Liga title and the Copa Del Rey.
Every time Messi gets the ball at his feet, there is a promise of magic. His spectacular play has become so routine we maybe take it for granted. He scored 48 goals in 53 games for Barca, and some of his goals were truly breathtaking. In fact, his goal against Bilbao in last year’s Copa Del Rey is among the three finalists for the Puskas Award for best goal of the year.
Real Madrid’s Portuguese star Ronaldo was Europe’s leading scorer with 57 goals, but he did not win any trophies and that will cost him with voters. In fact, Messi’s Barca teammate Neymar could finish ahead of Ronaldo. Neymar has 46 goals, including some big ones in the Champions League quarterfinal, semifinal and final.
If French legend Thierry Henry had a vote, he’d give it to Messi.
“You can’t really explain what Leo is doing, you can’t explain it, you just have to admire it, enjoy it, because what he’s doing, I don’t know, it’s just not normal,” he said. “Before when you scored 23 to 25 goals in a season, everybody said that you were an incredible striker. Leo does it in three months. … Leo, at times, I think really seriously, I ask myself if he’s human.
“If he doesn’t win [Ballon d’Or], then, in my opinion, it would be crazy. Aside from that, he deserves it. They won the treble once again. What I don’t understand is why Luis Suarez isn’t in the shortlist. There are only three places of course, and that’s the problem. If you talk about statistics, what they’re doing, it’s incredible.”
▪ More awards: The FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year also will be announced Monday. Finalists are (surprise, surprise) U.S. World Cup star Carli Lloyd, Japan’s Aya Miyamam and Germany’s Celia Sasic.
Men’s Coach of the Year finalists are: Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich), Luis Enrique (Barcelona) and Jorge Sampaoli (Chile). Women’s Coach of the Year finalists are Palmetto Bay resident Jill Ellis (United States), Mark Sampson (England) and Norio Sasaki (Japan).
EPL: Arsenal (42), Leicester City (40), Manchester City (39), Tottenham (36), Manchester United (33).
La Liga: Atletico Madrid (41), Barcelona (39), Real Madrid (37), Villarreal (36), Celta Vigo (31).
Serie A: Inter (39), Fiorentina and Napoli (38), Juventus (36), Roma (33).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (46), Dortmund (38), Hertha Berlin (32), Monchengladbach (32), Bayer Leverkusen (27).
Ligue 1: PSG (54), Monaco (32), Angers (31), Caen (30), OGC Nice (29).
On the tube
Sunday: Frosinone vs. Napoli (8:55 a.m., BeInSport), Nice vs. Lille (10:45 a.m., BeInSport), Sampdoria vs. Juventus (2:40 p.m., BeInSport).