Club America hopes to make statement against Inter
After winning its fourth consecutive Serie A title in May, Inter Milan is intent on staying on top.
Club America, which finished the 2008-09 season eighth in Mexico's Primera Division, wants to prove itself capable of getting back there.
Both teams will get that opportunity as they open the World Football Challenge on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com) at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.
While it is an exhibition tournament, the caliber of opponents and the round-robin format should make it worth watching.
"We're in the process of coming out of the preseason as are the other clubs," Club America defender Ricardo Rojas said via phone interview. "We've had a few games with teams here in the United States which have given us the opportunity to see what it is that we need to do to compete in these games.
"It's good for us, because coming into this game we have to come out [of the preseason] with a lot of energy and play at a high level right away."
While Inter capped its 2008-09 season with another Italian league title, the club fell short in Champions League play, leaving the team feeling it has something to prove heading into 2009-10. Inter has worked this offseason to shore up holes -- strengthening the midfield with the acquisition of Thiago Motta and bringing in Diego Milito up front.
Those aren't the only roster changes for the Nerazzurri, as the game comes on the heels of a busy few days for Inter Milan. The club signed Bayern defender Lucio, ending speculation that it will pursue Chelsea's Deco and Ricardo Carvalho; Inter also dealt Brazilian defender Maxwell and engaged in talks with Barcelona over a potential swap involving Inter forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Barcelona forward Samuel Eto'o. However, an Ibrahimovic deal hasn't yet been confirmed, although Spanish newspapers reported that an agreement had been reached. For now, the Swedish star is still expected to be in the lineup Sunday. A concussion limited Inter goalkeeper Francesco Toldo at preseason training camp in Los Angeles, but reports indicate he will be fine to play this weekend.
While Inter Milan has worked to pare down a squad that coach Jose Mourinho lamented as overloaded, Club America has looked for players to acquire.
Club America vs. Inter
Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Tuesday
Chelsea vs. Inter
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Wednesday
AC Milan vs. Club America
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Friday, July 24
AC Milan vs. Chelsea
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com Sunday, July 26
AC Milan vs. Inter
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
5 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
Chelsea vs. Club America
For Club America, this tournament is a chance to make a statement on a global stage -- something the team has struggled to do in recent years. One of the most vaunted teams in Mexican history, Club America boasts 10 division championships, but has won only two in the past two decades. The team has lacked stability and consistency -- on the sidelines and in the lineup -- in recent seasons. However, there have been signs of progress since Jesus Ramirez took the helm last February (the team's fifth coach in a year). The team brings back an improved defense that includes Rojas and midfielder Pavel Pardo, both of whom played for the club when it won its last division title in 2005. Salvador Cabañas continues in his role as a scoring threat.
Las Aguilas' results from a pair of MLS friendlies (a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake this past Saturday and a scoreless draw against Colorado on Wednesday) may have done little to assure supporters that the club is on the upswing. But Club America was aggressive from the start in both matches and put forth solid defensive efforts.
"While our focus is on the tactical, we're also going to have to be physical," Rojas said of the Inter Milan match. "This club, and European teams in general, are very physical. We've got to come out strong against them."
However, if the Nerazzurri's match against UCLA -- a 2-2 draw-- is any indicator, the real key could be fitness.
"We are on the right track, but it's always a bit hard to get into your best form after the holidays," Inter midfielder Patrick Vieira told the team's Web site after the UCLA friendly. "Giving 100 percent counts in the first match of the season. We are doing this, but we need time. ... The Americans like running, whereas we're still not in top shape, but the important thing is to be in tune with the ball again."
They won't have much time to get warmed up -- and with a stateside match against AC Milan on the horizon, the Nerazzurri don't want to slip out of the gate, especially in a game in which they're favored.
"This tournament is short, but it's going to be really intense," Club America's Rojas said. "This game [against Inter Milan] is going to be indicative of that."
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at email@example.com.