Sun Life Stadium is 4,900 miles away from the Italian cities of Milan and Turin, but it sure didn’t feel that far Tuesday night as Serie A rivals Juventus and Inter Milan battled for seventh place in the inaugural Guinness International Champions Cup.
Thousands of fans among the crowd of 38,513 came dressed in the black-and-white replica jerseys of Juventus and the blue-and-black striped shirts of Inter. They were there to get a rare up-close look at two of the oldest clubs in the world. Juventus, nicknamed “ Vecchia Signora” (Old Lady), was founded in 1897 and Inter in 1908. Between them, they have won 49 Serie A titles and five European championships.
Although it was just a preseason match to avoid last place in a summer tournament, it was clear there was history and pride on the line as the teams put on an entertaining match and thrilling penalty-kick shootout that had the audience on its feet and smartly dressed reporters from Milan shouting “Bravo!” as player after player converted kicks.
In the end, Inter won 9-8 on penalties after a 1-1 tie in regulation. The hero for Inter was goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo, an Argentine who came in as a substitute for Samir Handanovic. He punched out Mauricio Isla’s penalty kick in the 10th round, and then stepped to the line and blasted the winner up the middle of the net, over the shoulder of Juventus backup keeper Marco Storari.
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The tournament slogan is “No friendlies. Just football.” And the Italian clubs certainly lived up to it. Valencia beat Everton 1-0 in the late game for fifth place.
Tuesday's matches served as hors d’oeuvres for Wednesday’s main course — the 9 p.m. championship game between Real Madrid and Chelsea, preceded by the third-place match between A.C. Milan and the Los Angeles Galaxy, the only non-European team in the event. A sellout crowd of 70,000 is expected.
For the European clubs, this tournament is a chance to give players game conditions three weeks before the start of their season. It also allows them to connect with fans and build their brand in the United States. For the Galaxy, which features U.S. national team star Landon Donovan and Ireland captain Robbie Keane, it’s a chance to test themselves against some of the biggest names in the sport.
“It’s a remarkable experience for our team, especially the young players, to go up against teams of this caliber,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who watched Tuesday’s matches from a suite along with his son, FIU coach Kenny Arena, and his 13-month-old grandson, Wayde. “In the span of a week, we will have played Real Madrid, Juventus and A.C. Milan. What team has ever had that experience? For our guys to see the likes of these players up close and personal is invaluable.”
Inter and Juventus entered Tuesday’s match with something to prove after disappointments in the earlier rounds. Juventus, the reigning Serie A champion, lost in penalty kicks to Everton and lost 3-1 to the Galaxy. Inter, also known as the Nerazzurri, fared worse, going scoreless with a 2-0 loss to Chelsea and a 4-0 loss to Valencia.
That is why Tuesday’s victory felt so sweet for Inter players.
“It was an important response because to lose 4-0 hurt us,” Carrizo said. “Facing an important rival like Juventus, the best in Italy, we had to play at our maximum, if not better. We were able to control the ball and play a solid match. I like how we responded.”
Walter Mazzarri, the Inter coach, added: “After the two losses, obviously, we didn’t have good performances, our team played well. Our forwards had plenty of scoring opportunities. I’m glad our team is following the way I see the game. We’re starting to put our mechanisms and organization on the field.”
Inter scored first with a 29th minute goal from Ricardo “Ricky” Alvarez, a midfielder from Argentina who gave Juventus defenders fits all night. He scored after a shot by Fredy Guarin bounced off goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s leg. Alvarez pounced on the rebound and knocked it in. The play started with nice footwork from forward Rodrigo Palacio
Juventus tied it in the 45th minute on a penalty kick by Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal. Juventus was awarded the kick after Mirko Vucinic backed into the box against Inter defender Juan Jesus and fell. Jesus received a yellow card and Vidal got the equalizer just past the outstretched arms of Inter keeper Handanovic, who guessed right but couldn’t reach.
Juventus coach Antonio Conte said the team leaves with plenty of positives, despite the eighth-place finish.
“Our objective was to prepare for the Italian Cup, Super Cup, League Championship and the UEFA Champions League,” he said. “It was inevitable the heat in the preseason would have an effect on the players. The experience against the Galaxy was a good one in that it prepared us for the challenges of the season. This is not going to be an easy year for us. To win three championships in a row is not an easy thing.”