- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SEVILLE, Spain | Real Madrid’s poor showing in its opening game has Peace Cup officials nervous.

The star-studded Spanish outfit could barely hold its own in a 1-1 tie against Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittihad on Sunday night at its famed Bernabeu Stadium. It faces a must-win game to stay alive in the 12-team preseason event.

And Real Madrid, with its galaxy of famous names, could easily have lost if the Jeddah Tigers had not blown two scoring chances late. Al-Ittihad’s coach suggested the Spanish club was “playing at 40 percent.”

“If Real Madrid doesn’t advance, it will certainly affect the semifinals and the final,” said Sean Kim, deputy secretary general of the Peace Cup.

Real Madrid must beat former South American champion Liga de Quito on Tuesday to advance to Friday’s semifinals. Barring an upset, it would face Italian club Juventus there, setting up a showdown between two of Europe’s giants.

But Quito will be no easy task for Real Madrid. The Ecuadorean club, which won the 2008 Copa Libertadores, beat Al-Ittihad 3-1 in its opening game to take the top spot in Group B. The club also has had two more days of rest.

Real Madrid is the marquee club at the Peace Cup. Kim said more than 1,000 media members are attending the event, which is being broadcast in 130 countries.

“Real Madrid wants to get the prize money to start paying back all the money that was spent on this man,” said Kim, pointing to a photograph of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese star did little in his club debut Sunday. Ronaldo cost Real Madrid a world record $131 million transfer fee when he joined the club last month, so his long-term worth to the team is more than the $2 million that the winner of the Peace Cup earns.

But Kim said just having Real Madrid in the tournament has helped.

“Having Madrid in the event has certainly had an effect brandwise worldwide,” he said. “Now people know about the Peace Cup.”

The tournament suffered a blow when Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini announced after Sunday’s poor performance that Brazilian star Kaka, the club’s other big signing, will not play in the Peace Cup. He will not see any action until Aug. 7, when the club meets Toronto FC on its North American tour. Two days later, the team will play D.C. United at FedEx Field.

As for the future of the Peace Cup, Kim said Madrid and Barcelona have shown interest in hosting the 2011 series, as has French club and four-time participant Lyon.

Logistics have also been a problem for organizers, who are competing with a Bruce Springsteen concert Tuesday at Seville’s Olympic Stadium. The event forced the Peace Cup to use Sevilla FC’s 51-year-old stadium for a semifinal match.

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