INDIANAPOLIS—Any doubts about the International Champions Cup as a valid sporting event were blown away by just looking around Lucas Oil Stadium before the game even started.
The seats were a sea of blue, just a slightly different shade from the normal Colts blue seen in the fall. The Cup was a complete success, with the results of the game almost secondary to the pageantry and the passion of the local fans.
Chelsea dominated the match, as expected, with early goals, including a controversial penalty kick finished strongly by Eden Hazard. Chelsea used their full complement of stars, including a late-game appearance by Fernando Torres, and seemed to have full control of the game from the kickoff.
An early goal by Oscar, who bent around Samir Handanovic, set off the crowd, with Hazard's spot kick locking things down. By the second half, a red card for Hugo Campagnaro in the 60th minute sealed the fate of Inter Milan, now relegated to the loser's bracket instead of taking on their rivals AC Milan, as Chelsea will now do at MetLife Stadium in New York.
Chelsea was seldom challenged defensively, with Inter only earning one real scoring chance. At the 20-minute mark, Rodrigo Palacio fired a deflected yet hooking shot coming at the right corner of the goal. Petr Cech managed to stretch just long enough and had a strong enough punch to direct the shot over the goal for a corner. An equalizer there may have changed the game, but strong defense from Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic, as well as John Terry in the center, kept any real chances from developing from that point.
Chelsea went deep into their bench, using nine players including Demba Ba, who played in something of a midfield role, and Fernando Torres, who had a couple solid runs despite the rumours of Wayne Rooney hanging over him. Torres, along with Ramires, who played a significant role in the first half, always seemed to be close to breaking loose, though Inter was able to answer them.
Chelsea also dominated defensively. While Inter would pack back against any run, the speed of Victor Moses and the power of Romelu Lukaku challenged them, with Oscar and Eden Hazard playing technically behind them. Gary Cahill's stops were most impressive, especially in a sequence early in the second half where two shots could have had Chelsea out of position.
A crowd of almost 42,000 filled Lucas Oil Stadium, in part due to the draw of two of football's big clubs and in part due to the pageantry. While the Indy market is still a year off from getting their second-division NASL club, the Indy Eleven, to root for, they had no trouble finding a favourite from among the world's best. The assembled media was surprised and delighted by both the crowd and the response.
Inside the crowd, the fans seemed happy with the product. While the second half was light on action, it was a very late-staying crowd, with very little in the way of trickle-out.
Locals couldn't help but compare the below-capacity crowd to the Colts, but this was nonetheless a successful endeavor. While the promoters hoped for a sellout, anything above 25,000 would be a win. The new club will play in a stadium with around 12,000 seats, so this served as a solid introduction to the market.
Indianapolis wasn't a place to see celebrities. Even the Colts, including soccer fan Andrew Luck, were confined to their training camp north of town. Instead, it became a celebration of fans, with tons of flags, songs and fans hanging on every kick on the field.
Chelsea had to be happy with both the victory and what they saw from a team that looked a lot like what many expect to be their starting XI in just a few weeks. Chelsea controlled the game largely from the midfield, finding breaks and controlling position more than possession in the style of a classic Jose Mourinho team. Even as they brought in substitutes in the second half, the run of play always seemed to be favouring the Blues.
The event was directed by the Indy Eleven and for them, it had to be a rousing success. The NASL club is more than a year away from their inaugural season, but there was a strong presence both by the club and by its fans, the "Brickyard Battalion." With MLS looking to expand over the next few seasons behind the upcoming New York and (likely) Miami franchises, the crowd and reaction in Indianapolis had to get their notice.
Indianapolis' crowd and effort compared favorably to Phoenix, who had the late game between Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy. With a true "home team" and one of the most recognizable players in the world, Phoenix didn't have significant advantages over Indianapolis in terms of crowd or excitement.
Chelsea now heads to New York to take on AC Milan, who won their opening game against Valencia in Spain. AC Milan has had a tough go recently, including a conviction for owner Silvio Berlusconi, according to the BBC, and will be looking to keep the distractions out of their game.
With Real Madrid picking up an expected victory in Thursday's late game, the second round of Mourinho Bowl may be ahead in the International Champions Cup.
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