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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CANELO FRENZY DOESN’T SUIT ALL

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By STEVE BRENNER

GRAPEVINE, Tex. — The Mariachi band played with unmistakable pride. Fans screamed, desperately scrambling to get a glimpse of their hero.

Young and old, several hundred of them came out on Wednesday to pay homage to Sául Álvarez, the Mexican boxer widely known as Canelo and viewed as one of the most popular — and marketable — stars of a sport entering its post-Floyd Mayweather, post-Manny Pacquiao era.

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BRAZIL ROUT MEANS NOTHING

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By STEVE BRENNER

ORLANDO, Fla. — It will undoubtedly take more than a convincing win over Haiti to reinvigorate Brazil’s love affair with its national soccer team.

With only 35 minutes on the stadium clock, Brazil, five-time world champions, already had three goals against an earnest collection of Haitian players who were content enough to be joining the party at this summer’s Copa América Centenario without registering a seismic result against a team that has traditionally been one of the game’s greatest powers.

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ST. VINCENT’S PART-TIMERS AIM FOR THE STARS

Members of St. Vincent and the Grenadines men's soccer team take part in a practice Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, in St. Louis. The team is scheduled to play a World Cup qualifying match against the United States on Friday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

By STEVE BRENNER

If Jurgen Klinsmann, the German coach of the United States national team, thinks he is at his lowest ebb, Cornelius Huggins can offer him a startling reality check.

When Klinsmann’s team begins the qualifying cycle for the 2018 World Cup in Russia on Friday night, it will do so on the heels of a string of desperately disappointing results. Fans are grumbling, and faith in Klinsmann’s leadership seems to dim with each new unimpressive display.

Yet if Klinsmann ever fears that all hope is lost, he can always put himself in the shoes of Huggins, a man once known as the Outlaw who faces a much taller task.

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