Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman: Barca-Real Madrid matchup to borrow March Madness spotlight

Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates his goal with Neymar as Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid looks back in March 2014.
Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates his goal with Neymar as Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid looks back in March 2014. Getty Images

In this country, sports fans are obsessed with March Madness this weekend. But in the rest of the world, there is no bigger sporting event Sunday than El Clasico — the mega-matchup between Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.

When the teams last played, in late October, the TV audience was close to 500 million. Real Madrid won that one 3-1. But Barca has a slight edge this time, and the first-place perch in La Liga is on the line, which makes the showdown even more dramatic.

The game is at 4 p.m. on BeINSport USA.

With 10 games left in the season, both teams are trying to get the upper hand. Barca holds a one-point lead, so a win would give it a four-point cushion. Barcelona has won 16 of 18 games so far this year and is in superior form.

The Barca trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez has been playing better of late than Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. Bale went scoreless for eight games before getting on the board last weekend.

Barcelona won its Champions League game 1-0 over Manchester City on Wednesday, and Real Madrid was off. Time will tell whether Barca will benefit from staying game-sharp or whether Real Madrid’s week off will give its players fresher legs.

Of course, the most discussed part of this game is the head-to-head matchup between Messi and Ronaldo. Between them, they have won seven Ballon d’Or Player of the Year trophies since 2008. Messi won four times, and Ronaldo three. This season, their numbers have been fairly close. Messi has 43 goals and 16 assists, and Ronaldo has 39 goals and 13 assists.

No matter who prevails, there is sure to be drama.

▪ Champions League quarters: The other big news this week is the draw for the Champions League quarterfinals, which took place Friday. PSG will play Barcelona, Porto will play Bayern Munich, Juventus will play Monaco and Atletico Madrid faces Real Madrid in a crosstown match between two teams that have played regularly. Atletico has had the edge, including a 4-0 win in January.

The first legs are played April 14-15 and the second legs April 21-22.

▪ U.S. women training: U.S. women’s coach Jill Ellis, a resident of Palmetto Bay, named a 25-player roster that will train in Los Angeles for a week before traveling to St. Louis for a friendly against New Zealand on April 4 (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

More than 31,000 tickets have been sold.

The roster includes the 25 players who recently won the 2015 Algarve Cup in Portugal. They beat a very good France team 2-0 in the final. St. Louis natives Becky Sauerbrunn and Lori Chalupny were also added to the roster.

The training camp will be March 23-30 in Carson, California.

“Having the initial training period in L.A., when we can go a bit harder and then tapering into the match in St. Louis will be excellent preparation for a New Zealand team that always gives us a highly competitive game,” Ellis said. “This will be an excellent test for us. They are aggressive, athletic and like to press. We’ll see some similar tendencies that we could see in our first group match at the World Cup and certainly the crowd will be tremendous. It will be nice to be back at home.”

▪ UM goalie called up: University of Miami redshirt sophomore Catalina Perez was one of six goalkeepers selected to the Colombian national team training camp in preparation for the 2015 Women’s World Cup this summer.

It is the third time the Boca Raton native has trained with her national team. She competed in the Pan-American Games for Colombia at age 17, and trained with the team before the 2012 London Olympics, where she was the final cut and listed as an alternate. She also played for Colombia as a 15-year-old at the 2010 U-20 World Cup in Germany.

Perez missed the 2014 UM season while she recuperated from an ACL injury.

“The more time I spent in Colombia and the more cities I visit, the more I fall in love with my country,” Perez said. “Wearing yellow, blue and red means more to me every day; when I put the shirt on, I feel a certain fire in my heart.”

▪ UM camp: The UM women’s soccer team will be hosting an ID Clinic on April 4 for high-school-aged players who aspire to play college soccer. It will be run by coach Mary Frances Monroe and her staff. After the camp, the Canes will play a spring game against FIU.

For more information, go to http://abcsportscamps.com/CanesSoccer.

Who’s leading

English Premier League: Chelsea (64), Manchester City (58), Arsenal (57), Manchester United (56), Liverpool (54).

La Liga: Barcelona (65), Real Madrid (64), Valencia (60), Atletico Madrid (50), Sevilla (52).

Serie A: Juventus (64), Roma (50), Lazio (49), Napoli (46), Fiorentina (45).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (64), Wolfsburg (53), Monchengladbach (44), Bayer (42), Schalke 04 (39).

Ligue 1: PSG (59), Lyon (58), Marseilles (54), Monaco (50), ASSE (49).

On the tube

Sunday: Liverpool vs. Manchester United (9:30 a.m., NBCSN), Hull City vs. Chelsea (noon, NBCSN), El Clasico Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (4 p.m., BeINSport USA), NY Red Bulls vs. DC United (5 p.m., ESPN2), San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

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