Los Angeles Soccer: Inter Milan
- Stories/No. 9: Real Madrid's visit
The gap between Major League Soccer's best and the world's finest clubs has rarely been more aptly illustrated than at the Rose Bowl last Aug. 7.
The Galaxy, en route to the Supporters' Shield (as MLS's regular-season champion), stood toe to toe with mighty Real Madrid through 45 minutes, taking a two-goal lead to the locker room at halftime.
Real Madrid defender Marcelo, right, clashes with Galaxy forward Mike Magee during their friendly at the Rose Bowl on Aug. 7.
Then Jose Mourinho, the “Special One,” unleashed his A side, bringing on World Cup stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas. Real Madrid, demonstrating a substantial superiority in skill, quickness of thought and ball movement, destroyed L.A. over the final 45 minutes, rallying for a 3-2 victory -- with Argentine forward Higuain scoring two of the goals.
The encounter delighted a crowd of 89,134 -- the second-largest crowd to watch a soccer game in Southern California this year, just off the 90,526 count for Mexico's Rose Bowl game against New Zealand on March 3. And it delighted the Galaxy, who considered it an honor to be on the same field with one of the globe's greatest clubs.
Dario Cvitanich rescued Pachuca in Wednesday's fifth-place match at the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. but the Mexican team's triumph on penalty kicks sends CONCACAF home from FIFA's top club competition without a victory for the second time.
Cvitanich scored in the 82nd and 89th minutes to pull Pachuca back from a two-goal deficit in the 2-2 draw with host Al-Wahda, then converted the first spot kick in a 4-2 triumph in the tiebreaker.
The Tuzos, who had Americans Herculez Gomez and Jose Francisco "Gringo" Torres in their starting XI Wednesday, can take some comfort from its quarterfinal defeat to TP Mazembe, with the African champion -- from the Democratic Republic of Congo -- becoming the first club not from Europe or South America to reach the title game.
Mazembe stunned Brazil's Internacional, the Copa Libertadores titlist and winner of the Club World Cup in 2006, in the semifinals, claiming a 2-0 victory Tuesday on superb goals by Mulota Kabangu and Congolese national-teamer Dioko Kaluyituka.
UEFA Champions League winner Inter Milan will take on the Africans in Saturday's final in Abu Dhabi after thrashing South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa, 3-0, in Wednesday's semifinal. Dejan Stankovic, Javier Zanetti and Diego Milito scored the goals.
Pachuca didn't have huge expectations to meet at the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Nobody expected the Mexican club (and not even the best of Mexican clubs) to reach the final -- that's, as always, the domain of the Europeans and South Americans.
But the Tuzos failure to advance from the quarterfinals, for the second time in three appearances in FIFA's club championship, is a grave disappointment that makes it difficult to counter perceptions that CONCACAF's leagues aren't at a particularly high level.
Pachuca was eliminated from the competition in its opener Friday, falling to African champ TP Mazembe, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mbenza Bedi scored the only goal, sweetly finishing high inside the near post from Mulota Kabangu's flick into the box in the 21st minute.
Two of Pachuca's Americans saw action -- Jose Francisco Torres started and former Galaxy forward Herculez Gomez came on in the second half -- and good for them. The experience certainly is worthwhile.
Pachuca had its chances: Damian Manso struck the post in the 17th minute and Raul Martinez the crossbar in the 60th. But the Mexicans head to Wednesday's fifth-place game, against the loser in Saturday's quarterfinal between UAE's Al-Wahda and South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa, the Asian champion.
First thought upon seeing the finalists for FIFA's Ballon d'Or award: Where's Wesley Sneijder?
Three very deserving Barcelona stars -- midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi, the most prominent figures in Spain's World Cup triumph, and Argentine forward Lionel Messi, the world's biggest star -- are up for the honor, called FIFA World Player of the Year before it merged with France Football magazine's legendary Ballon d'Or (or “Golden Ball” award for the top European star.
Marta, Women's Professional Soccer's two-time MVP, is up for the women's Ballon d'Or, and U.S. coach Pia Sundhage is a finalist for women's Coach of the Year.
Messi, who won FIFA's and France Football's awards last year after finishing second in FIFA's balloting the two previous years, scored 47 goals in 53 appearances for Spanish champs Barca during the 2009-10 season and has 25 in 20 games this season. He did not score during the World Cup in South Africa but was nonetheless among the event's finest attacking players.
Xavi provided the foundation of Spain's World Cup triumph, combining with Iniesta to create the mobile, quick-passing attack so key to the victory.
Sneijder should be there, too, probably in place of Iniesta. The Dutch midfielder led Inter Milan to its fifth straight Italian Serie A title and to the UEFA Champions League crown, then was the pivotal player as Holland reached the World Cup final. Inter's poor start to this campaign might have harmed his candidacy.
The Tuzos, who gained entry to the annual seven-team Club World Cup by winning the CONCACAF Champions League title last spring, must beat Africa's champion and Copa Libertadores titlist Internacional to reach the Dec. 18 title game in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. They'll find out their first foe -- either the Democratic Republic of Congo's TP Mazembe or Tunisia's Esperance -- when the African Champions League wraps up Nov. 13.
Brazil's Internacional, which beat Guadalajara in the Copa Libertadores final in August, and UEFA Champions League winner Inter Milan are seeded into the semifinals. Internacional won the Club World Cup four years ago.
Pachuca has been unimpressive in the Mexican Primera Division's current Apertura tournament, falling further from playoff contention with a 3-2 loss Tuesday to visiting UANL Tigres that left its record 4-6-4 with three games to go in the regular season. The Tuzos have three American players: Los Angeles-born Herculez Gomez, a former forward with the Galaxy, and Texans Jose Francisco Torres and Marco Antonio Vidal. Gomez and Torres played for the U.S. at the World Cup in South Africa.