- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

Soccer, the beautiful game, lived up to its moniker last night at RFK Stadium as Spanish power Barcelona and Italian giant AC Milan entertained.

Though it was just an exhibition and both teams are in the preseason, the skill, class and speed the teams displayed is not seen from teams based in the United States.

Ronaldinho scored a goal and added an assist as he led Barcelona to a 2-0 victory before 45,864 in the ChampionsWorld Series, an eight-team, seven-city tour featuring some of the world’s most famous soccer teams.

Last night’s crowd was the largest to watch a soccer game this year in the District and the 15th largest to witness a game at RFK. No one left disappointed.

For the first time since 1988, Barcelona finished out of the top four in the Spanish league last season and subsequently failed to qualify for the lucrative UEFA Champions League tournament. The club, which is determined to prove its failure was an aberration, dominated AC Milan, the reigning UEFA Champion.

Barcelona signed Ronaldinho two weeks ago from French club Paris St.-Germain for nearly $30million. Based on last night, it was a good investment for a club that has an operating budget of $200million.

“Everything is fine, and it’s working really [well],” Ronaldinho said through a French interpreter. “Everybody hugs me.”

His teammates should love him. Ronaldinho has had just a few training sessions with his new club since being signed, but by all indications he fits in.

“It’s early, but you can see that he’s important for us,” forward Marc Overmars said. “You can see that he enjoys his football. He’s a typical Brazilian. They want the ball; they want to control the match. Give him some time to adapt to Spanish football, and he’ll do well.”

Ronaldinho put his stamp on the game in the 51st minute when he scored his goal and gave Barcelona a 2-0 lead. Barcelona midfielder Xavier Hernandez passed the ball to Ronaldinho outside the 18-yard box on the left. From 22 yards, the 23-year-old unloaded a left-footed shot from 22 yards that deflected off AC Milan defender Roque Junior — a close friend of Ronaldinho’s — and whistled just inside the left post.

This game was Barcelona’s second of a three-game tour and AC Milan’s first. Barcelona defeated Italian power Juventus on penalty kicks after the match ended in a 2-2 tie Sunday in Foxboro, Mass.

AC Milan originally was scheduled to play Scottish club Celtic in Cleveland last Friday but pulled out of the match because it didn’t want to spend that much time in the U.S. AC Milan plays Juventus on Sunday at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in what is called the Italian Super Cup.

Barcelona wraps up its tour Sunday against Manchester United at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

Barcelona scored the game’s first goal off an outstanding assist from Ronaldinho to striker Ricardo Quaresma in the 11th minute.

The goal started when Barcelona’s Javier Saviola chested down a ball out of the midfield about 15 yards outside the 18-yard box. The 21-year-old Saviola, who joined Barcelona last year for $20million from Argentinian club River Plate, pushed a pass square to Ronaldinho on the right.

Ronaldinho collected Saviola’s ball and slid a perfect pass to Quaresma, who split AC Milan defenders Cafu and Paolo Maldini on a run toward goal. Quaresma took two touches into the box and unloaded a right-foot rocket from about 15 yards in front of goal that beat AC Milan goalkeeper Dida, Brazil’s national team’s starting goalkeeper, to the upper right corner.

Barcelona controlled play most of the first half. Despite playing with backup goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who looked shaky at times, AC Milan didn’t generate many scoring chances. In the 28th minute, AC Milan’s Ukrainian forward Andriy Shevchenko tried a shot from inside the box, going for the far right post, that rolled across the goal mouth and into the right corner when Valdes was badly out of position.

“You saw a very good practice,” AC Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti said. “Just keep in mind we just landed yesterday from Europe. It was productive. At the end of the day, it was good for our team.”

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