Some of the biggest names in European soccer are coming to North Texas.
Famed Spanish squad and reigning European champion Real Madrid takes on Italian powerhouse AS Roma at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
The match is part of the second Guinness International Champions Cup, a preseason tournament in which eight of Europe’s biggest clubs play a series of games in front of big United States crowds. It concludes with a championship Aug. 4 in Miami.
The slogan for the event is “The gods of soccer are coming,” giving the impression that a battle of mythological proportions is about to take place. Perhaps that’s a bit of a reach given that the tournament is mostly a chance for these clubs to warm up before their seasons begin in August and to spread goodwill and sell their game to a growing U.S. fan base.
But it is a treat for soccer fans to watch the world’s best players in action. A big crowd is expected at the 92,000-plus capacity Cotton Bowl. The upper midfield and corners are sold out, but lower level seats are still available.
As is common with international friendlies, many of the biggest household names may or may not make the roster. For example, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez are among the Real Madrid players not expected to play. For Roma, Gervinho and Daniele De Rossi may not make the pitch either.
But here are six “gods of soccer” — three on each team — who could grace the Cotton Bowl grass on Tuesday:
The 29-year-old Portugese winger is widely considered one of the best players ever — and he was rewarded last year by winning the FIFA Ballon d’Or, which is presented annually to the world’s best player as voted on by international coaches, captains and journalists. Ronaldo combines intense footwork with masterful shooting ability. He scored a whopping 51 times in 48 Real Madrid matches last season. In five years with the club, he has 252 goals. Real Madrid officials initially announced Ronaldo would stay in Europe to rest after the World Cup and prepare for the upcoming season but announced Wednesday that Ronaldo would make the trip to the United States after all.
The 25-year-old Welsh midfielder contributed 15 goals and tons of magnificent assists last season during his maiden stint with Real Madrid despite playing in only 27 games because of injuries. The former member of England’s Tottenham club is one of the fastest players in the world, usually playing on the outside of the midfield. Getting a chance to watch him run down the sidelines is worth the price of admission. Plus, he’ll probably be fresher than most of the other players because his country didn’t compete in the World Cup this summer.
The 32-year-old defensive midfielder for Real Madrid is known for creating scoring drives from the back of the field. He’s evolved as a leader on Real Madrid, where he has played since 2009 — and before that, he was a beloved member of England’s Liverpool. Alonso grew up in Spain but spent time in Ireland as a teenager. His father, Periko Alonso, was an outstanding soccer player, too.
The 37-year-old attacking midfielder has spent his entire career at Roma, where he is captain. He holds the club record for appearances (707) and goals (290).
The 33-year-old defender almost always plays left back. The native Londoner previously played 15 years combined at two famed English clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea. He’s known for fierce play and an attacking style. It might be a fleeting chance to see the long-time star, who in May was left off England’s World Cup roster and subsequently announced his retirement from international play.
The 21-year-old Argentinian winger and forward is seen as a budding superstar. At 5-foot-7, his playing style and ball-handling is sometimes compared to compatriot Lionel Messi — although they play different positions. Plus, Iturbe grew up in Paraguay and is more of a product of that country’s youth system. He just signed a five-year contract with Roma that, at a reported $37.5 million, could be a bargain if he continues to develop.