AC Milan and Valencia were tasked with competing in the first-ever match of the inaugural International Champions Cup on Saturday afternoon, a tournament that will serve as the replacement for the World Football Challenge.
The Serie A and La Liga sides did not disappoint in getting the 2013 tournament off on the right foot. Milan had two first-half goals to grab an early lead and managed to hold off Valencia's advances in the second half to pick up a 2-1 victory and stay on the winner's side of the bracket.
The Champions Cup's Twitter account had this post as the score went final:
And that's the final whistle! AC Milan defeats Valencia, 2-1 (Robinho 22', de Jong '38, Parejo 53') in the first match of #ICC2013.— Int Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) July 27, 2013
Goal.com's Ben Hayward offered this analysis from the match after Valencia missed several chances to pull even with Milan in the latter stages of the second half:
Valencia so often seem to come up short against the top teams and they have again. Close to a late leveller but Milan win 2-1 at Mestalla.— Ben Hayward (@bghayward) July 27, 2013
Massimiliano Allegri's squad was not expected to come out firing. Missing Mario Balotelli and using Stephen El Shaarawy as a sub, Milan was billed as a team that would struggle to score goals in this tournament before their first match began.
Robinho and Nigel De Jong must not have liked that projection.
The Brazilian midfielder got his side on the board first in the 22nd minute. As noted by the tournament's Twitter account, Robinho will forever be known as the first man to score a goal in the International Champions Cup:
22nd minute: GOOOOOOOOAL! The first goal of #ICC2013 goes to Robinho, and AC Milan leads 1-0! How will Valencia respond?— Int Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) July 27, 2013
It didn't take Milan long to add another goal to the scoreboard.
Constantly active in the attacking half during the opening part of the match, Milan found themselves in a favorable position in the 38th minute. After Valencia's defenders failed to clear the ball off a pass from outside the box, the ball kicked back out to De Jong with no pressure in his face.
His powerful strike rose to the top corner of the net to beat goalkeeper Guaita and give Milan a 2-0 lead. 101 Great Goals had a look at the strike on Twitter:
Golazo! Nigel de Jong (AC Milan) v Valencia http://t.co/wemyJ9DZyv— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) July 27, 2013
In addition to Milan's two first-half goals, the opening 45 minutes of action was must-see TV.
When Robinho went down with an apparent injury near the middle of the pitch, Joao Pereira refused to kick the ball outside the lines to stop play. It almost led to a Valencia equalizer in the 25th minute and did lead to a scrum on the sidelines in the process.
Milan Next had this tweet as players from both Valencia and Milan gathered together just before a brawl could ensue:
Valencia almost drew after continuing an action clarely stopped by a Milan player who tried to send the ball outside the pitch for an injury— Milan Next (@MilanNext) July 27, 2013
Just a few minutes later, it looked like Valencia got the equalizer they were seeking just before the scrum. A beautiful set piece on a free kick set Adil Rami up for a header goal, but the referee raised his flag for offsides to disallow the goal. The ICC had this tweet as it happened:
29th minute: Disallowed goal for Valencia, as Adil Rami was offsides before heading the ball into the net. Still 1-0 to AC Milan. #ICC2013— Int Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) July 27, 2013
For a squad playing without several of its top stars, Milan completely controlled the first half. Valencia went into the break with some soul searching to do and came back out for the second half looking like a different team.
Los Murcielagos were more aggressive in pushing the ball down the field as the second half began and were quickly rewarded for their efforts.
Completely dominating the Milan defenders, Valencia's attackers all converged after an overhead pass from Jonas to Paco Alcacer in the box. Alcacer had his choice in teammates for an open look, and it was Parejo that cut Valencia's deficit in half.
101 Great Goals also had a video of Parejo's second-half knock:
Valencia pull 1 back: Dani Parejo v AC Milan (Check out the ball by Jonas in the build up) http://t.co/K8tFdrlUtR— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) July 27, 2013
Hayward noted that, after the goal, all the momentum was with the home side:
Parejo pulls one back for Valencia, who have been bright this second half. Momentum with the home side now - even though they are 2-1 down.— Ben Hayward (@bghayward) July 27, 2013
But in true Valencia fashion, they were not able to turn that momentum into another goal. Jonathan Viera, Oriel Romeu and Michel all created chances for the club as the match wore down, and there was a general feeling in the stadium that Valencia would come up with an equalizer before the referee blew his whistle for full time.
That equalizer never came.
Viera had the best chance for the Spanish league club to send the match to a shootout. With four minutes of added time already on the board, he sent a superb cross well over the bar instead of driving the ball into the back of the net.
Who was the man of the match?
For all of the chances that were handed to Valencia in the second half, Milan managed to survive the onslaught and stay on the winner's side of the bracket. Gabriel was excellent in coming on for Christian Abbiati in the net, thwarting several late Valencia chances with his fingertips.
In a match that could have gone to either side, Milan took advantage of their early chances. Valencia, in position to score three or four goals in the final 10 minutes, did not.
Technically, Saturday's opening ICC match was a friendly. Nothing felt friendly between these two sides as the action wore on, hopefully an indication that we're going to get the same amount of effort from the other six teams in contention for the first-ever ICC trophy.
|Valencia Player||Grade||AC Milan Player||Grade|
|Vicente Guaita||B+||Christian Abbiati||C|
|Joao Pereira||C+||Luca Antonini||C-|
|Adil Rami||B||Daniele Bonera||B-|
|Ricardo Costa||B-||Philippe Mexes||B-|
|Jeremy Mathieu||B||Kevin Constant||C+|
|Javi Fuego||C||Antonio Nocerino||B-|
|Parejo||A-||Nigel De Jong||B+|
|Sofiane Feghouli||C||Andrea Poli||B|
|Paco Alcácer||B+||Andrea Petagna||C+|
Saturday's Milan-Valencia clash was the only match scheduled to be played outside of the United States. Everton and Juventus will square off at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Wednesday, and all of the matches to come will be played in various U.S. cities.
Which match interests you the most?
By Friday morning, we'll have seen all eight club teams scheduled to appear in the tournament. Chelsea will battle Inter Milan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in one Thursday match, while Real Madrid will travel to Phoenix to square off with the Los Angeles Galaxy in the other.
AC Milan will face the winner of Chelsea and Inter Milan, while Valencia will catch the loser. Win or lose, each squad will play three matches before returning to training for their respective league seasons.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.