Soccer rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid can't get away from each other. Teams that divide loyalties in the Spanish capital play on consecutive days this weekend in the Bay Area.
Storied club Real Madrid meets Italian power Inter Milan on Saturday in the first soccer game ever held at Cal's Memorial Stadium. The match is part of the Guinness International Champions Cup, a preseason exhibition tournament featuring eight of the world's most popular clubs playing in the United States.
Then Spanish league champion Atletico Madrid plays in a friendly Sunday against the Earthquakes in the last sporting event at Candlestick Park. The game is part of the government's initiative to help promote the Spanish brand abroad. Atleti, as the team is known, also will play Wednesday in Mexico City against Club America.
The Madrid clubs, who met in May in the UEFA Champions League final, also start their long seasons next month playing each other in the Spanish Supercup.
"It is an unprecedented situation to have the two finalists of the European Champions League competing and selling Spanish football in the Bay Area," La Liga president Javier Tebas said through an interpreter.
It seems like ages since the Madrileño rivals met for the prestigious Champions League title. Since Real's 4-1 overtime victory, soccer fans have enjoyed an entertaining World Cup in Brazil and now are focused on the upcoming seasons and changing rosters.
The games this weekend won't feature all those World Cup celebrities who played in the Champions League final two months ago.
Some of Real's stars aren't available while still recovering from the long summer. (Cristiano Ronaldo is scheduled to join his club Saturday but probably won't play in Berkeley on the day he lands.)
Atletico's roster has been raided by richer teams, particularly Chelsea in London. The wholesale roster changes surprised Earthquakes president Dave Kaval, who approached Atletico at the beginning of the year to schedule the friendly. He wanted to attract a big-name European club to piggyback on interest generated by the World Cup. Kaval, though, understood the vagaries of rosters.
"There are no guarantees in terms of which players play," he said. "There is risk inherent in those types of situations."
But Quakes officials were not expecting competition for their big summer event. The Real-Inter game that boasts much more star power was moved in May from Phoenix to Berkeley. Promoters expect to sell out 63,000-seat Memorial Stadium, leaving questions about how well the Quakes' game will draw.
The Atletico match remains important nonetheless.
"It is elevating our brand internationally and helps us acquire players and elevate our stature with our commercial partners," Kaval said.
The Bay Area has become a regular summer destination for European and Mexican teams preparing for seasons that begin at the end of August.
In 2009, Barcelona and player of the year Lionel Messi faced Chivas de Guadalajara at Candlestick Park as part of a doubleheader with the Earthquakes.
San Jose also has played England's Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea City and Norwich City in summer exhibitions.
Last year, the International Champions Cup featured Juventus of Italy's Serie A against Everton of the English Premier League at AT&T Park. Also, Chivas, Pumas, Cruz Azul and Morelia played an all-Mexican League doubleheader at Spartan Stadium a year ago.
But Real Madrid and Atleti's appearances two weeks after the World Cup mark a monumental weekend for local soccer fans.
The clubs might share the same Zip code, but they could not be more different. Their histories trace the deep economic and political divisions of Spain, though at different times both teams had been favored by former dictator Francisco Franco.
Real is located in the northern Madrid district of Chamartin while Atletico plays south of downtown. Real is one of the world's richest soccer clubs whereas Atletico has been saddled with debt, annually losing its biggest stars to richer teams.
Other than Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, La Liga clubs have suffered through the economic downturn that suffocated Spain for the past five years. The teams in Spain's top two divisions have debts of about $4.85 billion, but the league remains one of the world's most respected as Spain won the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships.
"Regardless of the crisis, Spain has been able to shine through football," said Tebas, the La Liga president.
Government officials have borrowed a page from the Franco days by using soccer to promote the country.
"As a brand, Spain is a destination where people like to go to," Tebas said. "The government wants to take Spain out to rest of the world."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865.
For the game at Cal: http://internationalchampionscup.com/teams/realmadrid/
For the game at Candlestick Park: www.sjearthquakes.com
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Gareth Bale heads upfield during a training session this week at UCLA in preparation for Real Madrid's opening Guinness International Champions Cup exhibition match against Inter Milan at Cal's Memorial Stadium.