Travel takes its toll as Guinness soccer tournament opens with Olympiacos win
Thursday, Jul 24, 2014 09:00 pm
TORONTO - The Guinness International Champions Cup is off and running but you can forgive Olympiacos and AC Milan if they are battle-weary after just one game.
In the wake of a 3-0 loss to Olympiacos on Thursday, Milan coach Pippo Inzaghi pointed to a punishing schedule that had his team arrive at 2 a.m. the day of the game from New York after two days travel from Italy.
"We didn't have a chance to train," Inzaghi said through an interpreter. "The players are trying their best."
Olympiacos coach Michel, a stylish Spaniard who like Inzaghi had a distinguished playing career, found the travel schedule a little easier to accept thanks to the result.
"When we get a win, we think a less about the fact that we are tired and that we had to travel a lot," he said through an interpreter. "But I understand what the Milan coach said. This is a really hard trip and we get really tired with it."
Asked when his team had arrived in North America, Michael and his translator went back and forth until they could agree on Monday.
"From Milan to New Jersey," said Michel, who touched down in Toronto on Wednesday morning.
"We are a little lost," added the interpreter.
Thursday's kickoff to the tournament was originally scheduled for New York's Citi Field before being shifted last month to Toronto. Charlie Stillitano, CEO of tournament organizer Relevent Sports, did not offer one specific reason for the move but said he initially thought the Toronto stadium would be unavailable because of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
He also said New York was hosting other games and the switch gave his company a chance to partner with MLSE and take advantage of an expanded BMO Field in the future.
Alejandro (Chori) Dominguez, Dimitris Diamantakos and Andreas Bouchalakis scored for Olympiacos, which was full value for the win in a game short on fireworks. The Greek side seemed to play at a higher tempo than the languid pace of Milan.
The Italian team pressed later in the second half but was unable to take advantage before an announced crowd of 10,603 at BMO Field. One of those fans ran on the field late in the game and took a selfie with an Olympiacos player. He was escorted out after the photo op.
Another fan then did it with a Milan player, taking a tumble en route. Two more were grabbed before they could follow suit.
Olympiacos outshot Milan 10-8 (4-2 in shots on target).
The eight-team tournament runs through Aug. 4 with games in Ann Arbor, Mich., Berkeley, Calif., Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
Milan and Olympiacos are joined in Group B by Liverpool and Manchester City. Group A features Inter Milan, Manchester United, AS Roma and Real Madrid. The two group leaders will meet in Miami for the title.
Mercurial Milan striker Mario Balotelli was not in uniform, perhaps saved for Sunday's meeting with his former club Manchester City in Pittsburgh.
Fans chanted "We want Balo" minutes into the match. The Italian star, along with Ghanaian teammate Michael Essien, watched the match from a box.
Inzaghi said Balotelli did not play since he had only three training sessions with the team after the World Cup.
Balotelli has been in the headlines over a possible transfer, with reports he wanted an annual salary of five million pounds after taxes to join England's Arsenal. But Milan officials denied there had been a bid from the north London club.
Balotelli, meanwhile, posted a somewhat bizarre Instagram video this week that showed him dancing while ironing and reading former Inter Milan teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic's autobiography. The video was accompanied by a note: #KnowledgeIsPower reading books is cool?? #StayInSchoolKids.
His Instagram account also included a thank you to Toronto FC for giving him a jersey and for letting Milan train at "our magnificent KIA training centre!"
Of course, Balotelli could also tweet from experience that setting off fireworks in your bathroom is unwise. In 2011, two fire crews were reportedly needed to put out a blaze at his English home.
Veteran Italian international striker Giampaolo Pazzini started up front for Milan. The Serie A club's midfield featured 19-year-old Bryan Cristante, an Italian-born midfielder who holds a Canadian passport thanks to his father's bloodlines.
Forward Hachim Mastour, who turned 16 last month, started on the bench. Milan signed the starlet from Reggiana for a reported 500,000 euros (C$723,550) when he was 14.
Mastour, born in Italy to Moroccan parents, did put on a halftime show playing with the ball as if it was on a string as the reserves warmed up.
Dominguez opened the scoring for the Greek side in the 16th minute on a nice cross from French winger Mathieu Dossevi that caught the Milan defence napping. Dominguez, a veteran Argentine, brought the ball down and sent a right-footed shot past 21-year-old Brazilian 'keeper Gabriel.
Olympiacos came close to going up 2-0 in the 39th minute but Thanasis Papazoglou's header off a corner was cleared off the goal-line by a Milan defender.
Milan midfielder Andrea Poli threatened in the first half but he couldn't quite get his head to a cross. Pazzini came close twice late in the first half, inches away from getting hold of a pair of dangerous crosses.
Diamantakos upped the lead in the 49th minute, angling in a cross from France's Arthur Masuaku as Olympiacos punished some slack Milan defending.
Riccardo Saponara hit the goalpost minutes later on a Milan rare attack.
Bouchalakis scored for Olympiacos against the run of play in the 78th minute, on a long-range left-footed rocket of a shot.
French international centre back Philippe Mexes, Brazil's Alex and Japanese star Keisuke Honda were among Milan's second-half substitutes.
Milan finished eighth in Serie A last season with a 16-13-9 record. Olympiacos won the Greek title with a 28-4-2 campaign.
Milan jerseys far outnumbered those of Olympiacos but a pocket of chanting Greek fans made their presence felt in the northeast corner of the stadium. They celebrated the win with a flare that would have lit up a mine shaft.
It was a sparse crowd after Wednesday's sellout of 22,000-plus for Toronto FC versus Tottenham. The upper tier of the West stand was closed off for Thursday's game and there was just a handful of fans in the north stand behind the goal.
Olympiacos faces Liverpool in Chicago on Sunday.
Real Madrid won the inaugural final last year, defeating Chelsea 3-1 before 67,273 fans in Miami.