EL CLASICO COMES TO MIAMI

STEVE BRENNER

MIAMI — An excitable, well-heeled crowd gathered in the Brickell City Centre shopping complex, camera phones poised.

Paolo Maldini, the legendary Italian soccer player, smiled back. He was in good company: a handful of current stars of the world game — Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrés Iniesta and Luis Suárez — were there, too.

Well, at least their faces were. Faces made out of moss.

“Soccer is the most powerful sport in the world,” said Paloma Teppa, the founder of the botanical art gallery Plant the Future, who had created the works with the local muralist Andrew Antonaccio. “So combining it with Mother Nature is a wonderful thing.”

Teppa, an Argentine, said she was unsure if any of the Barcelona and Real Madrid players in town for a match this weekend had seen the portraits, but it hardly seemed to matter.

The seeds of soccer fascination had been sown wide here for the past few weeks as everyone, it seems — artists and performers, reporters and marketers, small shops and big brands — tried to attach themselves to Saturday night’s big show: a highly priced matchup between Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona at Hard Rock Stadium. A total of 66,014 people were said to attend, some of them paying $500— or much, much more — for the chance to watch Barcelona’s 3-2 win from the stadium’s upper reaches.

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McGUIGAN WANTS INSTANT REDEMPTION

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STEVE BRENNER AT THE MGM GRAND

Barry McGuigan was not in the mood for false promises. Carl Frampton, the Northern Irishman he reveres like a son, had just fallen to the first defeat of his 24-fight career and had the WBA featherweight title won so brilliantly six months ago in New York wrestled from his grasp by Leo Santa Cruz, the man who was felled on that raucous Barclays Center evening.

No one was begrudging the Mexican his moment of triumph. Santa Cruz was excellent, unleashing to perfection a game plan which forced Frampton to abandon his preferred counter-punching role and instead act as the aggressor.

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FRAMPTON’S MOMENT OF TRUTH

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FROM STEVE BRENNER , LAS VEGAS

Carl Frampton stands close to greatness. The glitz of Las Vegas can easily blur minds yet Frampton’s razor sharp focus has shone like the lights on the strip.

This is his first defence of the WBA featherweight crown he took so gloriously in New York last July from Leo Santa Cruz ,the Mexican three-weight world champion who will stand in the opposing corner on Saturday night aiming to avenge the first defeat of his 34-fight career. With an estimated 5,000 fans from Frampton’s native Northern Ireland here to roar him home, the stakes have rarely been higher.

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DEGALE BATTERED, BRUISED BUT NOT BEATEN

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STEVE BRENNER, NEW YORK

James DeGale’s nose was broken, some of his teeth were missing and he was being treated for a perforated eardrum after 12 epic rounds. But as he recovered in hospital, the words of Floyd Mayweather would have increased the burning sensation in his ears.

While the Londoner was being patched up at the end of a brutal WBC-IBF super-middleweight unification bout against Badou Jack that ended in a rare majority draw, Mayweather was holding court deep into yesterday morning.

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A NEW DAWN FOR MLS

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BY STEVE BRENNER

The temperatures plunged to freezing and the world recognized superstars were elsewhere.

Yet as MLS closed its 21st season in Toronto on Saturday night, commissioner Don Garber would have fought the arctic conditions with the warm glow of satisfaction.

When Seattle slotted in the winning sudden-death penalty after 120 minutes of pure statemate – the Sounders failed to muster a shot on target in normal or extra time – history was made in what was ultimately a disappointing, fractious finale.

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