A sliver of space, and seconds later, an explosion. A careless turnover in the midfield gave possession to Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, one of the finest players in the world, within just an iota of space to operate. Calmly and confidently, Bale forged forward, dribbling with his preferred left foot. An Inter Milan defender trailed a yard behind, but it was enough of a distance that Bale could take his time to launch a left-footed laser from 30 yards out. Samir Handanovic, Inter’s keeper, stood in apparent shock as Bale’s shot tore through the space-time fabric and teleported to the top shelf of the goal.
Up 1-0 after his 10th-minute goal, it appeared Bale’s squad would not relinquish that lead. But the advantage proved as slight as the space between Bale and the surrounding Inter defenders, as a late penalty kick evened the score between the two European behemoths. In penalty kicks Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, international soccer powerhouse Inter Milan defeated Real Madrid, 2-1, at the Berkeley edition of the Guinness International Championships Cup in front of a sellout crowd of 62,583 fans.
The International Championships Cup is a series of exhibition games held in North America and featuring some of the world’s premier soccer clubs. The game served as the first matchup between two professional sporting clubs of any kind in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. The stadium served as the venue for the exhibition’s first of six matches to be held over the course of July and August.
In these U.S. exhibitions, the most famous of the European club players often opt out of playing. Such was the case in Saturday’s contest, as Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo traveled with the team but did not see any time on the pitch. So, too, sat French striker Karim Benzema and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso, fixtures of the World Cup in the recent past.
One player of considerable international renown, however, did make an appearance at Memorial Stadium, and that was Bale. The Welsh citizen did not have a chance at the World Cup to make an impression among the American public, but he made a strong effort to change that perception Saturday afternoon against Inter Milan.
Among a crowd of world-class players, Bale managed to look a little more masterful than the rest. He looked untroubled amid crowds of swarming Inter defenders, controlling possession and swinging crosses in with precision. He nearly scored in the third minute, when a cross from a teammate found Bale, whose header grazed the top of the crossbar and ricocheted back out. He was not to be cheated, though, as he capitalized on his next chance in the 10th minute to score the only goal of the match in the first half.
Possession swung dramatically to Inter Milan in the minutes immediately following Bale’s goal, but no credible scoring opportunities emerged. The closest Inter Milan came to scoring in the first half was in the 22nd minute, when a bit of a scramble from the Real Madrid defense gave Inter a prime look for a cross into the box. Inter Milan midfielder Jonathan had a good look and made good contact with the ball, but it flew just above the crossbar.
The second half told a different story. With both Bale and Real Madrid’s starting keeper Iker Casillas sitting for the final 45 minutes, Inter took on a stronger attacking mentality. They found their breakthrough in the 67th minute, when Yann M’Vila’s strike from just inside the box was tipped just barely out of bounds by substitute keeper Jesus Fdez. On the ensuing corner kick, Nemanja Vidic was fouled in the box, setting up a penalty kick for Milan. As Fdez dove to his left on the attempt, forward Mauro Icardi simply chipped it down the middle, tying the score at 1-1.
It appeared the score would stay in this deadlock until a barrage of offense from Inter came on around the 78th minute. Off a deflected Real Madrid header in the box, Icardi teed up a one-time strike, which Fdez barely saved. It set up a rebound opportunity right in front of goal for Inter, but Fdez crawled to the near post just in time to extend his arm and stop his second consecutive shot, ensuring the friendly match would finish regulation in a friendly deadlock.
In penalty kicks, both teams struggled to find goal. Real Madrid faltered first, but Fdez equalized the score with a diving save. With both teams tied at two goals each and heading into the final shooter in the penalty period, Real Madrid midfielder Omar Mascarell missed wide right, giving Icardi a chance to give Inter the win. Icardi converted, sending Inter home as champions of the International Championship Cup opener.
Michael Rosen is the managing editor and covers football. Contact him at [email protected].