European stars kicking it at Heinz
Heinz Field has been transformed from a football field into a soccer pitch as it goes international tonight for a match between Chelsea and AS Roma.
The friendly — soccer speak for an exhibition — will feature some of soccer’s biggest stars, from Roma’s Francesco Totti to Chelsea newcomer Didier Drogba, and promises to showcase the city and its skyline worldwide.
Starting at 8 p.m., the match will be telecast to 50 countries on Fox Sports World and followed by a 15-minute Zambelli fireworks display. It is the fifth stop in a seven-city ChampionsWorld Series tour.
“It’s preseason for us, but it’s an important match because Chelsea is a great team,” Roma defender Cristian Panucci said. “We want to win.”
The match will be played on a pitch 114 yards long by 67 yards wide, slightly smaller than World Cup dimensions but beneficial to two teams rounding into game condition during their respective training camps.
“We’d like it a bit wider, but for this type of game it’s good because it’s faster,” Chelsea general manager Peter Kenyon said. “I think it will be an entertaining game to watch.”
Chelsea has created waves in the soccer world with its spending spree since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took ownership last July. The Blues have spent $211 million pounds, including Tuesday’s signing of Portuguese center/defender Ricardo Carvalho from FC Porto for a reported $19.85 million.
Carvalho made his much-anticipated arrival yesterday during Chelsea’s practice at Heinz Field, where he changed into a Blues uniform and was introduced to his new teammates at the conclusion of practice.
Carvalho, however, is not expected to play tonight.
“We’ve been put on the map,” Kenyon said. “People are aware of us. Now, we need to follow with sporting success.”
Chelsea started the tour with a 4-2 victory over Celtic last Saturday in Seattle despite the absence of injured midfielder Damien Duff and recent acquisitions Tiago and Drogba, who will make his Blues debut against Roma.
Aside from Italian national team players Panucci and Totti, Roma also features defender Traianos Dellas, the hero for Greece’s Euro 2004 champions.
The undisputed star, however, is Totti.
Dubbed “Il Simbolo” — the symbol of Rome — Totti has kept silent since receiving a three-game suspension for spitting on Denmark’s Christian Poulsen last month in Euro 2004. Totti broke his silenzio stampa yesterday, emphasizing that he is unimpressed by Chelsea’s splurge with a one-word answer: Benvenuto!
“Good for them,” Totti said. “We think about our team. We’re really not worried about Chelsea.”
Although it’s only an exhibition, both teams placed an importance on putting on a good show.
“What we can guarantee,” Chelsea’s Kenyon said, “is you’ll see our big stars and we’ll give them a great game.”