LAS VEGAS -- The panting winds rolling in from the desert heated up the Las Vegas atmosphere to triple-digit degrees for the World Football Challenge friendly between Real Madrid and Santos Laguna. The official lineup sheet handed out to the press read: "Weather: Hot."
That wasn't the only steamy part of the game.
The game turned chippy fairly swiftly, with hometown hero Herculez Gomez involved in much of the clattering. A few minutes into the match he clanked into Xabi Alonso after the ball was gone, giving up a free kick. A pair of tough challenges saw both him and Madrid defender Pepe booked in the second half of the 2-1 win for the reigning Spanish champion.
"Anytime you get two good teams together it's about pride. Nobody wants to come in second best, whether it be a football pitch or anything else in life," Gomez said. "We made it a competitive game; they made it a competitive game. Things just got going. In the heat of the moment things were said, but, you know, we're all professionals, we're all colleagues, and I think we all enjoyed this."
His duel with Pepe defined the early parts of the second half. Did they share any words after the game? "Oh, that's private," the 30-year-old said.
Less of a secret was how far the Mexican champ pushed Madrid. The score was knotted at one apiece at halftime and Sami Khedira's winning goal caromed off his face from an Oswaldo Sanchez punch.
"Look, we know how good they are, but I think they found out how good we are," Gomez said. "I think they found out quick that we can compete."
"I think they were surprised by how good we were on the ball, how calm we were, how dangerous we were. I think we earned definitely a lot of respect. That being said, they're still a very good team and you could see it. They fielded a whole different team in the second half and it was just as good as the first team."
Santos kept most of its starting XI on the field for the majority of the game, with head coach Benjamin Galindo making gradual substitutions in the second half. The club drew 2-2 with Puebla in Torreon just two days earlier.
"You've got to put things in perspective," the American international striker said. "We just had a league game 36 hours ago. We're still pretty beat up. But we enjoyed ourselves."
Gomez in particular, who grew up in Las Vegas, enjoyed the event. The city announced that April 6, his birthday, will be known as "Herculez Gomez Day."
"It was amazing. Not too many people get the kind of opportunity I've had in this soccer life," Gomez said, "let alone coming back home and having the weekend I've had. It's been very special. I couldn't have asked for anything else."
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium sold 29,152 tickets for the match, a record soccer attendance for the state.
"I dreamed of playing at home like this," Gomez said, in Spanish.
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- Herculez Gomez
- Real Madrid