AC Milan opens ICC with winning start
Nigel de Jong got the inaugural International Champions Cup off to a smashing start, leading AC Milan a 2-1 win over Valencia at the Estadio Mestalla in Spain with a glorious solo goal. De Jong’s blast, an unstoppable right-footed shot that dipped under the crossbar, was the highlight of a surprisingly competitive match. It may bode well for the remainder of this young tournament.
Milan will now face the winner of the Chelsea-Inter Milan match (live, FOX Soccer, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET) at Giants Stadium on Aug. 4. Valencia dropped into the loser’s bracket and can finish no higher than fifth.
For an hour, this game was both competitive and feisty, something usually not seen in pre-season friendlies. Then again, the International Champions Cup is a quirky thing: while these games are being staged in the European clubs’ preseason, it’s an attempt to create a true club tournament that the organizers hope will one day rival more established in-season competitions.
While most of the games are being staged on American soil – Saturday’s match was the only game to be played outside of the United States – in years to come, games may be staged across Europe, with finals taking place in New York or Los Angeles.
Both teams certainly appeared to take Saturday’s game seriously, with Miroslav Dukic and Massimiliano Allegri choosing to field largely first-string teams. And early on, it was Milan’s Robinho – a player who has been notably off the pace over the past two seasons – that seized the occasion to show that he intends to play his way back into the Brazilian national team.
Robinho, working in front of Andrea Poli, would force keeper Vicente Guaita into a series of early saves. The pressure culminated in the 20th minute when Guaita made a rash challenge on Poli, giving the Rossoneri an early penalty attempt. But Guaita would redeem himself, making a dazzling one-handed stop on Robinho’s attempt that left the Brazilian with some egg on his face.
It wouldn’t last: just one minute later, Poli and Robinho would again combine to score the opener. Poli pounced on an errant ball by Ever Banega, sent a through ball to split Valencia’s back line, and the Brazilian calmly finished right to left across a despairing Guita.
De Jong would win the game 16 minutes later after Valencia were unable to fully clear their lines, allowing Kevin-Prince Boateng an easy set-up for de Jong, who made no mistake as he finished hard and well to the top corner.
Valencia would haul one back after the break when Jonas neatly chipped the Milan back four to find Paco Alcacer, who smoothly squared to Dani Parejo for an easy goal. Reserve player Fede Cartabia came close to tying matters up with six minutes left when he rattled the crossbar and might have taken the game to extra time when the ball was cleared off Milan’s line in stoppage.
Both teams had goals waved off in the match; Adil Rami’s header at the half hour mark was correctly ruled to be offside; Boateng’s strike eight minutes later was rightly disallowed as Daniele Bonera had fouled on the play.
The eight-team, twelve-game tournament now moves to the west coast, with Juventus facing Tim Howard’s Everton Wednesday in San Francisco (live, FOX Soccer, Wednesday, 11 p.m. ET). Subsequent matches will be staged in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Field; Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles; Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium, Giants Stadium in New York City, and Sun Life in Miami, Florida.