It is exactly the final match promoters secretly wished for: Real Madrid vs. Chelsea at Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday night. The Spanish and English giants will be playing for the trophy in the inaugural Guinness International Champions Cup, an eight-team tournament that culminates in Miami with a pair of doubleheaders Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Although it is just a preseason event, Wednesday’s 9 p.m. championship could wind up being a preview of next year’s Champions League final. The teams are that good, and the storylines are as steamy as the August South Florida weather.
Chelsea’s new manager, the charismatic outspoken Jose Mourinho, will go face-to-face with his former employer just three months after their bitter breakup. Mourinho and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo traded verbal darts in recent interviews, adding spice to the matchup.
It would be difficult to find a marquee big enough to include all the stars on these two rosters. For Real Madrid: Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzena, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos. For Chelsea: Petr Cech, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Juan Mata, David Luiz, Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres and Branislav Ivanovic. The keeper showdown — Casillas vs. Cech — is reason alone to watch.
The third-place match at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday is between A.C. Milan and the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, the lone non-European club in the event. The Galaxy, led by U.S. national team star Landon Donovan and Ireland captain Robbie Keane, pulled off a 3-1 upset of Juventus in the previous round. Donovan is coming off an MVP performance for the United States in the Gold Cup.
“This is a dream, Real Madrid and Chelsea in the final, two of the favorite teams on the planet,” tournament director Charlie Stillitano said. “It’s an amazing epic matchup, and like any soccer fan out there, I’m really, really excited about how things turned out.”
Stillitano expects a sellout on Wednesday and “a very, very good crowd” for Tuesday’s matches — Juventus vs. Inter Milan for seventh place at 6:30 p.m., followed by Everton vs. Valencia for fifth place at 9 p.m. Juventus features newly signed Argentine Carlos Tevez, Spaniard Fernando Llorente, veteran Andrea Pirlo and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, the captain of the Italian national team. Everton is familiar to many U.S. fans because its keeper is the U.S. national team’s Tim Howard.
Unlike preseason summer friendlies of the past, the Champions Cup is being played in a bracket format, giving teams more incentive to go all out. It is being run by Relevant Sports, the soccer arm of RSE Ventures, the sports company of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. The previous rounds were played in New York, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Phoenix and San Francisco.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez and captain Phil Jagielka met with the media Monday morning at the team’s Coconut Grove hotel. The Liverpool team has had fun in Los Angeles, where players met actor Matt Damon, and looked forward to a few days in Miami. Martinez said the tournament was the “perfect” format for preseason training. He is eager to see his players tested against Valencia, a team that presents different problems from the Toffees’ first two opponents, Juventus and Real Madrid. Everton beat Juventus in a penalty-kick shootout, and lost 2-1 to Real Madrid.
Valencia shut out Inter Milan 4-0 on Sunday.
“We have been fortunate to play Juventus, with the best back three in world football, Real Madrid with the best counter attack in world football and now with Valencia with their settled side and football concepts, it’s going to be the perfect final exercise in this country,” Martinez said.
He has been impressed with Howard, saying the 34-year-old keeper is “in a fantastic moment of his career.” He praised the American’s attitude. “He is a leader. He enjoys challenges, has real desire, real youth in his performances.”
All seven European clubs are using the tournament as a chance to brand themselves more in the United States and connect with their stateside fan base.
“There are so many fans here who get up at ridiculous o’clock to watch our games [on TV], and we appreciate that,” Jagielka said. “We’ve tried to spend as much time as possible meeting them. It’s been quite a tight schedule, but you want to play in these sorts of games. If you don’t play against good opposition, you don’t really know where you are as far as preparation goes, and we couldn’t have asked for three better games.”