- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

The fourth edition of the Peace Cup, which begins Friday in Spain, added plenty of glitter this year.

The biennial tournament, which since 2003 has been played in South Korea, this time is co-hosted by Real Madrid - the early favorite to win the $2 million prize. The Spanish giant rarely has been out of the news since Brazilian star Kaka and world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo joined the club last month.

The 10-day event expanded from eight teams to 12 and has the title “Peace Cup Andalucia.” All but two of the 15 games will be held at venues in Andalucia, home to Spanish entrants Sevilla FC and Malaga.

Real Madrid, which spent more than $300 million to sign Kaka, Ronaldo and French ace Karim Benzema, is the marquee attraction. The preseason tournament will be the first time Real Madrid fans will see Kaka and Ronaldo in a competitive game together at famed Bernabeu Stadium, which will host two games. Ronaldo, whose $131 million transfer from Manchester United is a record, drew more than 80,000 fans when he was presented at Bernabeu.

Real Madrid went trophy-less last season after being overshadowed by rival Barcelona. The club will use the Peace Cup to prepare for the upcoming season and Champions League play.

This year’s event attracted a number of other notable clubs, including Portuguese champion FC Porto, Italian runners-up Juventus and three-time Peace Cup entrant Lyon. The top French club won the 2007 Peace Cup after downing Bolton Wanderers 1-0 at Seoul World Cup Stadium. Benzema, then with Lyon, was the MVP of that tournament.

In Group A, Sevilla FC, which will host the final Aug. 2, plays Juventus and seven-time South Korean champion Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. In Group B, Real Madrid is joined by South American champion Liga de Quito of Ecuador and Saudi Arabian team Al-Ittihad.

English Premier League club Aston Villa highlights Group C, where it will play Malaga and Mexican club Atlante, a late replacement for Scottish club Celtic, which withdrew because of Champions League commitments.

Turkish club Besiktas returns to the event for the first time since 2003 and is in Group D with Lyon and FC Porto. The winners of each group advance to the semifinals with A facing B and C facing D.

Dutch champion PSV Eindhoven won the inaugural Peace Cup in 2003, beating Lyon; two years later, English club Tottenham Hotspur downed the French club in the title game.

Profits from the tournament go to the Peace Dream Foundation, which sponsors youth soccer events in conflict regions around the globe.

“The motivation behind the competition is to create a platform to showcase the very best football being connected to the larger purpose of peace and development,” said Chung Hwan Kwak, the tournament organizer and chairman of Seongnam.

Following the Peace Cup, Real Madrid will tour the United States, which includes a game against D.C. United on Aug. 9 at FedEx Field. More than 43,000 tickets have been sold for that game. The only American team to participate in the Peace Cup was the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2003.

The tournament is sponsored by the Sunmoon Peace Football Foundation, a corporate sister of The Washington Times.

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