Soccer Set To Invade M&T Stadium

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Italians Expected in Full ForceThe Italian interest in Inter Milan was represented by Baltimore's Consulate General of Italy, Dr. Francesco Luigi Legaluppi.

Attending the Friday press conference at M&T Bank Stadium, Legaluppi said he believes fans of Italian descent will come to support their country in full force, no matter their regular allegiance.

Legaluppi cited an Italian frenzy surrounding A.C. Milan's stay in Baltimore last year as reason for his expectation.

"I am certain that you're going to have a great presence of Italians at the game," Legaluppi said.  "When one Italian team is playing, even if they are fans of another team, they will follow their country.  I can assure you that the AC Milan game was filled with people who wouldn't normally be cheering that team."

Ravens To Host Man City?

By the time Man City gets to Baltimore, the Ravens will be heading up to Westminster, Md., for the start of training camp.

But, a scheduled arrival on July 29 gives Man City an opportunity to visit the purple and black at McDaniel College, melding one type of football with another.

"We'd like to get the two sports together," said Gary Hopkins of G7 Sports, which is representing Man City's scheduling in the States.  "I'm sure there are some soccer fans among the Ravens, and the Man City players are eager to see how another sport trains."

True, the Ravens do have several soccer enthusiasts.  Notably, Oniel Cousins grew up playing soccer in his native Jamaica, and Trevor Pryce regularly plays in a soccer league when he works out in the offseason.

"I'm sure the [Ravens] won't mind a break in practice, either," joked Cass.

The Ravens are expecting over 70,000 screaming fans to fill M&T Bank Stadium this summer, but it won't be for football.

Or at least American football.

The Ravens, Maryland Stadium Authority, Maryland Office of Sports Marketing and Visit Baltimore joined on Friday to officially announce a meeting of two international soccer powers, Manchester City Football Club and Football Internazionale Milan (Inter Milan), scheduled for July 31.

The prime-time matchup (8 p.m.) marks the second year in a row where M&T Bank Stadium has hosted an international soccer match, as Chelsea and A.C. Milan battled in 2009's World Football Challenge.

If that sold-out crowd is any indication, Man City and Inter Milan should be another success.

"The Ravens are proud to bring the 'other' football back to our home field this summer," said Ravens President Dick Cass.  "Manchester City and Inter Milan are two of the elite clubs in the soccer world, and we look forward to welcoming both teams to M&T Bank Stadium."

At the heart of the game stand the two powerful franchises, both of which have several players representing their national squads in the 2010 World Cup (June 11–July 11).

Inter Milan is coming off an impressive Serie A league title, followed by the Coppa Italia (Italy Cup) championship.

They also are set to play Germany's Bayern Munich on Saturday, May 22, in the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) Champions League Final, which is Europe's most prestigious annual soccer competition.

Led by such dynamic players as Alberto Diego Milito, who scored 30 goals this year, and Samuel Eto'o, a 15-goal scorer and member of the Cameroon National Team, Inter Milan brings first-rate talent.

"In our lingo, they're going for the Triple Crown tomorrow," said Kevin Healey, General Manager of the Baltimore Blast.  "And when you talk about players, up and down the lineup, they have unbelievable players." 

As for Man City, Healey calls them a team on the rise.  They placed fifth in the Barclays Premier League  (England) this season and were paced by Argentinean Carlos Tevez, who found the net 29 times in 2010.

"When you turn to Man City, this is your up-and-coming team," Healey explained.  "I was fortunate enough to be in England last year when the [English Premier League] was starting, and the talk of the town was Man City.  They want to make an impact on the EPL and club soccer throughout the world."

Ravens officials are hoping to make the game a yearly event that draws soccer fans from all around the United States and Canada.  Last summer, an influx of spectators augmented local business revenues by approximately $20 million and supported nearly 300 Maryland jobs.

"We're going to have a lot of Maryland soccer fans, but they can turn around in the stands and meet someone from a completely different place, whether that's Boston, New York, or even Toronto," said Ravens Vice President of Marketing Gabrielle Dow.  "That's great for Baltimore.  The impact this game will have on the city – from hotels, restaurants, stores – is going to be huge.  We hope out-of-town fans will make a weekend of it."

The high-profile match also bolsters Baltimore's status among the international sports world.  As the U.S. considers its bid for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022, another sold-out gate could put M&T Bank Stadium and Baltimore on the forefront of potential host cities.

"I think that as we demonstrate that Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium are good venues for soccer, we hope to bring more soccer events to the stadium," Cass noted.  "We also hope that this will help our World Cup bid for the United States. 

"If the US can win the World Cup bid, we're hopeful Baltimore will be one of the cities to have matches."

Healey used a baseball analogy to summarize the potential windfall.

"If we keep selling these games out, we'll keep getting base hits and bring international soccer back," he said.  "And maybe, if we fill the bases, we can hit a grand slam.  Trust me, the World Cup in Baltimore would be a grand slam."
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