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In Barcelona, a record attendance for a women's soccer game

(SOUNDBITE OF STADIUM AMBIENCE)

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

The crowds, the energy, a high-stakes soccer game - it's called El Clasico, when two dominant teams in Spain and around the world, Barcelona and Real Madrid, face each other. Perhaps today it should have been called La Clasica because it was the women's teams that nearly filled the 100,000-seat stadium for the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. It set a world record for a women's match.

To get a sense of the day's excitement, we spoke with reporter Alan Ruiz Terol as he was getting ready to attend the game. So, Alan, hi. Describe for us where you are, and what's the scene around you?

ALAN RUIZ TEROL: I've come to one of the entry gates of Camp Nou. That is the Barcelona stadium. I think you can hear people chanting...

SNELL: Yes.

TEROL: ...Around me. Tickets sold out weeks ago, so it's going to be packed. And the reason is that people know this is history in the making. It's the first time the Barcelona women's team plays in Camp Nou with public. And with the rival being Real Madrid, it's even more exciting.

SNELL: You know, of course soccer is huge in Spain, but for those who don't quite know, can you give us a sense of how dominant this sport is and how relevant the men's Spanish soccer league really is?

TEROL: Oh, it's really big. It's called La Liga, or the league. And it's one of the most popular sports competitions in the world, the two most dominant teams being Barcelona and Real Madrid. Their rivalry is deeply rooted in Spanish history - political divisions as well. So every time they face each other, it's not only a soccer game, but also a social event. But up until very recently, though, this was only true for men's teams.

SNELL: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that. Has soccer not been open to women, or is it just not that popular?

TEROL: There's a lot of machismo in soccer, and our fans will tell you that it's a man's game. That, of course, is not true. Women's soccer has a long history in Spain. But you wouldn't say it was popular, at least not until now. I wanted to know why things are changing now, so I asked Edurne Concejo, a sports journalist who specializes in women's soccer, and she said that the main reason is the rise of feminism.

SNELL: Now, Barcelona and Real Madrid are huge clubs. And I'm wondering, when did they decide to invest in women's soccer? And what is the situation like for smaller clubs?

TEROL: Real Madrid, to begin with, didn't even have a women's team. They bought an already existing squad two years ago.

SNELL: Two years.

TEROL: Barcelona has had a women's team for years, but they became professional not that long ago. That was was in 2015. So before that, players had other jobs, and they would train in the evening well into the midnight. A lot has changed. Now Barcelona is clearly leading the way. They are the most dominant team in Europe with unbelievable numbers. Megan Rapinoe herself has called the team the standard-bearer of women's soccer.

But neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid are the norm in Spain. Few clubs can offer players similar working conditions. And there are some extreme cases, too, Rayo Vallecano, where players didn't have a contract. They didn't have medical staff, and some were living in apartments without electricity because the club couldn't pay their bills. So on paper, it is a professional league, but there's still a long way to go.

SNELL: Wow. I understand you also visited practice by a smaller team and talked to some of the players there. Younger women aspiring to be professional - what did they tell you?

TEROL: Yes. I went to a training session of Club Esportiu Europa, a local club in Barcelona. I talked to some players in the girls' team, so let's have a listen to Daniela Cervantes (ph) and Marina Lurenz (ph).

DANIELA CERVANTES: I started playing when I was 8 years old, and I'm 16 right now. And I feel like a lot has changed because now we have references. We feel like we have a future in women's football.

MARINA LURENZ: Now I'm 15, and I started playing when I was 7. At first I only watched men's soccer. Now I get to see both men and women.

SNELL: OK, Alan, so your prediction for the game today?

TEROL: I'm afraid that Barcelona is in a league of its own. The team hasn't lost a single game this season, and they average more than five goals a game. So far, Barcelona has won all the women's Clasicos, or Clasicas, so a defeat today would come as a shock. But, of course, everything is possible once the ball starts rolling.

SNELL: That was Alan Ruiz Terol speaking to us right before El Clasico's soccer game for women. And in case you're wondering, Barcelona won the game 5 goals to 2 and advanced to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.