First, there were English powerhouses Manchester City and Chelsea at Busch Stadium. Then there was Spanish giant Real Madrid and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo at the Edward Jones Dome. So for St. Louis soccer fans, how do you top that?
How about with one of the greatest players ever?
In Part 3 of what has turned out to be an amazing year for St. Louis soccer fans, the Cardinals will announce on Wednesday that Lionel Messi and the national team of Argentina will play a soccer match at Busch Stadium on Monday, Nov. 18 against Bosnia and Herzegovina, as long as Bosnia has already qualified for the World Cup by then. If not, another opponent will be named.
While Bosnia’s presence would certainly be a major draw for the area’s large immigrant population, the featured attraction this time is Messi, who has been voted the top player in the world every year since 2009 (finishing ahead of second-place Ronaldo the past two years) and has a good shot at winning it again this year. He’s one of the few players that even people who pay only passing attention to soccer have heard of, a forward known for his dazzling runs through opposing defenses and his superb ballhandling and shotmaking. At one point last season, Messi had scored a goal in an unheard of 21 consecutive Spanish league matches.
“This is going to be an amazing opportunity for people to see who some say is the greatest soccer player who ever lived,” said Vicki Bryant, vice president of marketing and event services for the Cardinals.
Bosnia and Greece are tied for the lead in Group G, with the winner earning an automatic spot in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, has a big lead in goal difference (+20 to +5) with two matches to play, on Oct. 11 and 15, and has the easier schedule. Both nations have to play Liechtenstein, while Bosnia has to travel to Lithuania, and Greece has a match at home against Slovakia. Since it’s unlikely Greece can make up the goal difference, Bosnia can pretty much clinch a spot in Brazil (and St. Louis) with wins in those two matches. However, if Greece loses to Slovakia on Oct. 11, that would effectively decide it early. If Bosnia finishes second in the group, it has to enter a playoff series that would be played from Nov. 15 to 19 and take it out of consideration for the game.
Though the roster for the game — part of a two-game American trip for Argentina — is not set, Argentina’s contract with Relevent, the game’s promoter, requires Messi to be on the trip and play. Messi is currently out with a hamstring injury suffered while playing for his club, Spanish giant Barcelona, but he is expected to be back in three weeks.
Argentina already has qualified for the World Cup and has two more qualifying matches to play, also on Oct. 11 and 15. It is ranked No. 2 in the world behind Spain by FIFA.
There will be a presale to Cardinals season ticket holders on Oct. 8, with tickets going on public sale on Oct. 10. After complaints about how the presale was handled for the English match — the password needed to purchase tickets in advance was widely circulated, leading to most of the tickets being sold before they went on sale to the general public — this time season-ticket holders will receive a unique, one-time passcode that will limit them to eight tickets, which should mean more seats being available to non-season ticket holders.
Busch will use the same configuration it did for the Chelsea match, and with the match being played in November, there won’t be a mad dash to either set up the field or restore it to normal this time.
After a gap of many years, this will be the third major soccer event in St. Louis this year, and all have been well received. The game at Busch drew 48,263 fans and the Real Madrid game at the Dome drew 54,814. One question is, can the St. Louis market handle so much soccer in such a short span?
“Any time you come back multiple times, whether it’s a concert or a soccer game, you have to ask yourself those questions,” Bryant said. “But we really feel, and Relevent feels, having the opportunity to get Argentina here with Messi is one we did not want to pass up or let St. Louisans miss the opportunity. For any of these friendly games, everything has to line up: the availability of the venue, the willingness of the team, the popularity of the team at the time … it’s not a slam dunk to be able to bring a team of this caliber at any given time.”
SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch
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