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Jul 20, 2009

Facing former coach Mourinho adds spice to Chelsea-Inter clash

PASADENA, Calif. -- While, strictly speaking, this summer's World Football Challenge is a "friendly" tournament, it's clear something extra will be on the line when Chelsea faces Serie A champion Inter Milan on Tuesday (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Inter is coached by former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who continues to cast a shadow over the organization. Chelsea won two English Premier League titles with the "Special One" at the helm, but has suffered through inconsistent play and a string of high-profile coaching changes in his absence. "I expect it will be slightly more than just a friendly because of the fact we're playing against Mourinho," said Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard. "He's obviously a very competitive man and he has a connection with us, a big connection with the club and a lot of the players here. "When you have connections with old bosses and old players, even if the game isn't a league game or a cup game, you still want to win it. So I expect quite a strong game." From Inter's perspective, midfielder Esteban Cambiasso attempted to downplay the importance of the match. "We have never played Chelsea in competition since I've been with Inter, but let's remember that this is a preseason game," Cambiasso said through an interpreter. "We are preparing for the more important games. Our idea is to develop a team play to become fit for the upcoming challenges, so the result is backstage in our minds at this point." The competition will only be amplified by the simmering feud between Mourinho and new Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti. The two were crosstown rivals last season when Ancelotti headed AC Milan and the always-outspoken Mourinho recently told reporters that Ancelotti is "no friend of mine." Ancelotti is Chelsea's fourth coach since the club replaced Mourinho in 2007. Chelsea opened its American exhibition tour with a 2-0 friendly win over the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer on Saturday. The Blues used the game to work on their fitness and break in new players, including recent acquisition Daniel Sturridge, who scored the game's first goal. Chelsea made nine changes at halftime, with only Lampard going the full 90 minutes.

WFC schedule
Tuesday
Chelsea vs. Inter
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Wednesday
AC Milan vs. Club America
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Friday
AC Milan vs. Chelsea
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com Sunday
AC Milan vs. Inter
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
5 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Chelsea vs. Club America
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
Inter Milan is coming off a penalty-kick loss to Mexican side Club America in Sunday's World Football Challenge opener in Palo Alto, Calif. The Nerazzurri had rallied to tie the score 1-1 on a goal by Ivan Ramiro Cordoba in the 61st minute before eventually falling 5-4 in the shootout. Both Chelsea and Inter are dealing with ongoing talk about the potential departure of key players. For Inter, the recent focus has been on forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has reportedly agreed to terms with Spanish giant Barcelona, only to see the deal held up while Inter works to sign Barcelona forward Samuel Eto'o in return. Ibrahimovic's chances of seeing the field in Pasadena may depend on whether the deal can be locked in before the match. If so, the Swedish star will likely see his American tour cut short. "Surely if Zlatan ends up leaving it will change our team, but the arrival of someone like Samuel Eto'o will also be a very important arrival," said Cambiasso. "We are a work in progress at this time of the season and I'm sure the dynamics of the team will change at some point. "[But] that's what preseason is all about and we're going to prepare for it the best we can with the players that we will have on the roster." Meanwhile, Chelsea cannot shake rumors of captain John Terry's possible move to Manchester City. Chelsea players seem to realize the situation is beyond their control and are trying to focus on the task at hand. "It's very much an individual thing, and you have to make a decision. So that's something for John and the club and everything to sort out," Lampard said. "As a group that's become quite irrelevant since we're here. We're just working on getting fit as a group and playing these games." The match Tuesday is likely to see liberal substitutions as the two teams continue to work on rounding into regular-season form. However, the clubs acknowledge that playing in front of an American audience provides a unique opportunity to expand the sport in the United States. "We do want to put on a good show," Lampard said. "For sure if we come over here and we get the crowds that I think we're going to get and the fans are coming to watch us, you obviously want to put on some entertainment. Some good forward play and just score some goals and play some exciting football." Based on the rivalry between Mourinho and Ancelotti, as well as the heightened level of competition whenever top European clubs collide, it's safe to say that the players will be working harder than normal for a preseason match. Inter will be looking to get back on track after the surprising loss to Club America, while the Blues will be eager to take a step into the future and away from Jose Mourinho. Andy Firchau is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at a_firchau@yahoo.com.

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