TURIN – Cristiano Ronaldo bellowed out a loud expletive when he missed a chance at the end of the first half in Italy’s first soccer match in more than three months. Everyone in the huge, empty stadium, all 300 or so of us, could hear it plain as day.
As a reporter for The Associated Press, I was one of only 10 journalists allowed into the Allianz Stadium on Friday for the Italian Cup match between Juventus and AC Milan. It finished in a 0-0 draw, good enough for Juventus to advance to the final on away goals.
The first leg, a 1-1 draw in Milan, was played in February, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports around the world.
But after more than 34,000 deaths in Italy related to the virus and 95 days without soccer, the ball was rolling again.
Seeing Ronaldo play is always an experience. Like watching Lionel Messi, or Johan Cruyff, or Diego Maradona, or Pele, seeing Ronaldo in person is something you’ll be able to tell your kids about. Something you can regale friends and family with at parties. And having this semi-private viewing was especially special.
He didn’t score and, actually, didn’t even look like he was match fit after the long layoff. But no one on the field looked particularly ready to get back to playing high-level soccer.
Ronaldo’s frustration was even more obvious because of the stark emptiness of the stadium, where the voices of the players echoed into the eeriness.
The entire experience felt strange from start to finish. There was hardly any traffic around the stadium, which is normally heaving on matchdays, and the new rules for reporters once inside threw my usual routine into disarray.