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Still some appeal to soccer 'friendly' despite missing World Cup stars

Juan Calcagno was hoping that one of his favorite players, Argentine striker Carlos Tevez, would be coming to Baltimore on Saturday with Manchester City to play Inter Milan at M&T; Bank Stadium. But Tevez is at home, resting after Argentina's run to the World Cup quarterfinals earlier this month in South Africa.

Though disappointed that his countryman won't be playing, Calcagno is planning on driving up from Bethesda with his son, Santino, to see the game.

"My 6-year-old got totally crazy about this World Cup. He didn't know anything about the game before that. He wouldn't even watch a game," Calcagno said earlier this week. "I don't know what happened. Maybe it was because he spent a couple of weeks in Argentina while the World Cup was being played. He came home as a different kid.

"If you want to bring your kid to [see] this beautiful game, I think the game in Baltimore would have such an impact."

The lack of star power will keep the attendance down -- a crowd of 35,000 is expected, less than half of the sellout of more than 72,000 that watched Chelsea play AC Milan last summer -- but the quality should still be high. Inter Milan is the reigning Champions League title-holder, and Manchester City is considered the rising power of the Premier League.

The wide-open style with which such a friendly is played should be attractive to those fans who became bored with the defensive struggles that were the norm during the World Cup. After the New York Red Bulls beat Manchester City in a friendly in Harrison, N.J., last Sunday, the newest star of Major League Soccer said these types of matches could help the game grow in the U.S.

"It's different, because the European teams want to play" more offensively than in a regular-season game, former Barcelona striker Thierry Henry said. "It allows you to have more space, more time on the ball. It's always better when you have a team that wants to play. It's a beautiful game to watch."

Even without a few of the 17 combined players who competed in the World Cup -- aside from Tevez, David Silva of World Cup champion Spain and Marcel de Jong of the Netherlands, the World Cup runner-up, won't be there for Manchester City, while Inter Milan will be missing Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneidjer -- a majority of the starters from both teams will be playing in Baltimore.

"It's still a couple of levels above the MLS," said Dennis Ceresini, a financial planner and youth-soccer coach from Towson who plans to attend the game with his family.

Ceresini is also trying to do his part to keep Baltimore's chances at hosting future World Cup games alive should the U.S. succeed in bringing the event back in 2018 or 2022. That decision will be announced in Switzerland on Dec.2. Baltimore is one of 18 cities on the current list that will be pared down to 12.

"The more people we get in the stands, obviously, when the World Cup comes back here, we're going to get a few games," Ceresini said.

After losing both friendlies last weekend in New Jersey, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini said that his team would be more competitive in Baltimore since "three or players who played in the World Cup" arrived a few days before those games to train.

Yaya Touré, an Ivory Coast midfielder who came to Manchester City from Barcelona in the offseason, as well as English national-team players Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips, played in Wednesday's penalty-shootout win over Club América, a Mexican club team, in Atlanta.

That game drew over 33,000 at the Georgia Dome after more than 50,000 came last year to see Club America and AC Milan.

Mancini said that the purpose of the match against Inter Milan on Saturday was for his players to continue getting fit for the upcoming Premier League season, not necessarily to win.

"I think we are a good team; before this tournament, we worked for two weeks very, very hard, twice a day," Mancini said. "It's normal that we can't play 100percent in this tournament, but for the last game in Baltimore, I think it will be different. I think in Baltimore we can do better."

Mancini dismissed the notion that his team would take Inter Milan more seriously because the Italian team won the Champions League or because he coached Inter Milan.

"It's important that our team try to improve game after game, but we're missing 11 players. It's a different situation than in two weeks [when the regular season begins]," Mancini said.

Note: The Blast will hold three youth-soccer clinics at Towson University's soccer facility today and Saturday in conjunction with Manchester City's appearance. The first clinic will take place between 9 a.m. and noon today for under-14 boys teams. The second will begin 2 p.m. today for under-14 girls teams. The third clinic will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday for under-18 boys teams. Coaches from Manchester City will help train the teams. Participants will receive a T-shirt courtesy of Manchester City and Umbro. The clinic is free of charge.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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