July 24 saw the start of the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup, a soccer tournament played in Canada and the United States between eight top class European club teams. The eight teams are divided into two groups of four teams, with the teams playing a round robin within their groups and the two group winners playing off in a championship game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on August 4. The “A” group comprises Manchester United, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Roma, while the B group comprises Olympicos, AC Milan, Manchester City and Liverpool. Thirteen North American cities will host a game in the tournament. The first game of the tournament, the only one to be played in Canada was played at Toronto BMO Field on July 24. Italian team AC Milan met Olympiacos (based in Athens, Greece).
The setting was impressive (even though the announced crowd of 10,603 wasn’t) on a beautiful summer evening on the shores of Lake Ontario. The view of the city skyline provided a great background for the game, which followed the usual script of touring teams during their off-season as they prepared for their upcoming league seasons. Toronto is a very cosmopolitan city, with large Italian and Greek communities. The two cultures were very evident as the respective fans came out to support their teams and their respective nations, with pride.
Both teams sat some of their stars (most noticeably AC Milan sat their star striker and World Cup participant Mario Bolatelli and both teams substituted freely (both used 20 players) and while the game had its moments of excitement, for the most part it was played at a slower pace than one would expect from world class teams. Although both teams had their chances, only Olympiakos took advantage of their chances, resulting in goals from Alexandro Chori Dominguez, Dimitris Diamantakos and the best goal of the night from Andreas Bouchalakis which sealed the game in the 78th minute with a 20 yard strike that would have beaten almost all world class goalkeepers.
Summer tours never result in the top class soccer we would like to expect and there are many reasons. Some of the stars don’t play, some only play a small portion of the game and some players don’t take the tours as seriously as they should. At the press conference after the game, both managers spoke with the assistance of translators. AC Milan Manager Filippo Inzaghi mentioned that while Olympiacos was definitely the better team and deserved the win, he felt that the fact that his team had only arrived in Canada on Monday and had had little opportunity to train before the game was a major factor in the below par performance. His counterpart, Michel was very gracious in victory, indicating that while he was pleased with his team’s effort and the result, he didn’t think that the difference between the two teams was not as wide as the final score indicated.
The first game of any off-season tournament is hardly ever a good barometer for what is to come. Let’s look forward to an exciting final in Miami next month.