Italy and England played one of the most memorable matches of the recent Euro 2012.
South Florida soccer fans get to see some of the architects of that classic square-off this weekend in Miami.
Italian soccer giant AC Milan and English powerhouse Chelsea clash in an exhibition match at 6 p.m. at Sun Life Stadium.
The “friendly” is part of the Herbalife World Football Challenge summer series, and it will be the first time since June 24 that Chelsea players Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill and captain John Terry have shared a field with Milan’s Antonio Cassano, Ignazio Abate and Antonio Nocerino.
The latter trio helped Italy beat England in penalty kicks in a Euro Cup quarterfinal. Nocerino made his PK, and Cole missed the final shot of the match to give Italy the victory. Italy came up short of the Euro championship, losing 4-0 to Spain in the final.
A crowd of over 50,000 is expected — not a rare occurrence when two of the 10 most popular soccer clubs in the world meet on U.S. soil. One of the meetings in 2009 in Baltimore drew a crowd of over 60,000. Chelsea CEO Ron Gourlay said that since 2011, Chelsea games in the U.S. have drawn about 200,000 spectators combined.
Last summer, a match between Spain’s Barcelona and Mexico’s Chivas drew 70,080 to Sun Life Stadium.
“Miami is a real hotbed of soccer fans, and we can’t wait to be there for this match,” Gourlay said. “This is Chelsea’s sixth trip to the U.S. in nine years. We’re absolutely delighted to be back.”
The game pits two of the oldest soccer clubs in the world, but it’s also a clash between Milan, a team with rich history, and Chelsea, one of the most successful in the world the past decade.
Milan has won 18 titles in Serie A, most recently in 2011, which ranks tied for second in Italy. Chelsea has won the Premier League four times, which trails only Manchester United.
Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League final, beating Bayern Munich after eliminating Barcelona and superstar Lionel Messi in the semifinals.
Milan, however, has the major edge in that category with seven Champions League titles, which is two behind the record of nine by Real Madrid. Milan’s most recent Champions League title came in 2007.
Chelsea’s recent success has coincided with the arrival of — coincidentally — an Italian coach. Roberto Di Matteo, 42, was made Chelsea’s interim coach in March and went on a historic run, which earned him a two-year contract.
Milan is also coached by an Italian, Massimiliano Allegri, 44, who has directed the club since 2010. The club is owned by the former prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi. Chelsea is owned by a Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich. Since his arrival in 2003, Chelsea has become the highest-spending team in soccer.
In January 2011, Chelsea set a Premier League record by paying a $79.5 million transfer fee for Spanish striker Fernando Torres. He is expected to play in this game.
Other Chelsea stars include Czech goalie Petr Cech; vice captain Frank Lampard, a midfielder and a three-time Chelsea player of the year; and Juan Mata of Spain. But Ivory Coast star Didier Drogba has left Chelsea for a club in China.
Chelsea was upset by the Major League Soccer All-Stars 3-2 on Wednesday night in the MLS All-Star Game. The loss came after the MLS team scored a pair of goals in the final 17 minutes of the match.
Gourlay said Chelsea is treating this as more than an exhibition.
“We don’t see this game necessarily as an exhibition game because after this we have one more match before we play Manchester City and then go into the Premiership,” Gourlay said. “I expect our team to be competitive since we need to get fit for our league games.
So which team is better?
In competitive matches over the years, Chelsea and Milan are 1-1 with three ties. But in exhibitions such as this one, Chelsea has a 4-2 advantage, having won the four most recent matches. Chelsea won the one true rout in the series, beating Milan 5-0 in 2008 at Moscow.
“This will be a very strong side that we have in the U.S. In fact, it’s one of the strongest we’ve had before,” Gourlay said.