Even a moment of brilliance by Gareth Bale couldn't overcome tough play as Inter Milan squeaked past European champions Real Madrid in penalty kicks 3-2 in their first game of the Guinness International Champions Cup.
Bale, the man who joined Real Madrid's cast of "Galacticos" last season in the most expensive transfer in history, opened the scoring with a 25-yard left-footed wonderstrike 10 minutes into the contest. A momentary lapse in midfield for Inter allowed Real Madrid's Pepe to poke the ball away and pass it to Bale, who proceeded to saunter into position unopposed before ripping it straight into the net and sending the mostly pro-Madrid crowd at California Memorial Stadium into a frenzy.
The Welshman had two more chances in the half -- one off a free kick and another long-distance effort -- but could not add to his tally before being substituted at the break. Aside from the moment of beauty from Bale, the contest turned quite physical with four yellow cards and 42 fouls total, both evenly split, handed out as a result in what on paper was a preseason friendly.
"Yes, we did expect it (to be physical), nobody likes to lose – even if it's preseason and it's a friendly game," said Inter Milan coach Walter Mazzarri, who is entering his second season with the team. "I told the young guys that with a team like Real Madrid that has won so much, they still give a friendly summer tournament a lot of importance. The tournament is an important aspect of preparation for the season, so both teams played hard – just like it was the beginning of the season."
The physicality helped Inter get back in the contest in the 68th minute as Real Madrid's Ruben Sobrino pushed Inter's newly-arrived Nemanja Vidic in the box during a corner kick. Referee Ricardo Salazar correctly pointed to the spot, and Mauro Icardi chipped his penalty right down the middle to tie the match.
Real and Inter came close to winning the game in regulation, but the final whistle came and it had to be decided by penalties as per rules of this preseason tournament. Two saves by Milan's Juan Pablo Carrizo, who came into the game during the second half, and another clutch penalty by Icardi guided the Serie A side to a 3-2 win.
"The first 15 minutes we were a bit hesitant, obviously," mused Mazzarri. "We had guys playing new positions and they were hesitant -- but they came along as the game went on and played well, especially in the second half, when we loosened up and came out with good midfield play. We went forward and you saw the result."
Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti had no complaints after the match -- pointing out that it allowed him the opportunity to give minutes to those that needed it and showcase some of his younger players, particularly with the absence of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and newly-signed James Rodriguez. The breakout of the World Cup from Colombia will join the squad Aug. 1.
Both teams have at least two matches remaining in the Guinness International Champions Cup with games on July 29 (Manchester United vs. Inter, Real Madrid vs. AS Roma) and Aug. 2 (Manchester vs. Madrid, Inter vs. Roma) with the winner of this group playing in the final on Aug. 4 in Miami.