WFC 2012

WFC Preview: Real Madrid vs. Celtic in final La Liga tuneup

WFC: Real Madrid vs. Celtic (IMAGE w/TV)

Photo Credit: 
Gabriel de los Rios / MLSsoccer.com

Celtic and Real Madrid may be two of the most renowned names in European soccer, but their encounters have been few and far between.

In fact, Saturday afternoon’s 2012 Herbalife World Football Challenge match against Spanish La Liga champions Real Madrid at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field (1:30 pm ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes) is the first meeting in 32 years between the two legendary sides.

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That last head-to-head came in a European Cup quarterfinal and the two may see each other again in this year’s competition based on how results have fallen.

While Real Madrid are already through to the group stage of the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League after advancing to the tournament semis last year, Celtic are preparing for an all-important UEFA Champions League playoff for a ticket to the group phase.

Preview: Real Madrid vs. Celtic

After advancing against Finnish champs HJK Helsinki in the second qualifying round, Celtic on Friday were drawn with another Scandinavian side for the third round. The Hoops face Swedish champs Helsingborgs IF in a two-leg series that opens in Sweden on Aug. 21 and then wraps up at Celtic’s Hampden Park on Aug. 29.

In addition to the two UEFA Champions League qualifiers played thus far, Celtic have already enjoyed a healthy dose of action this summer with six July friendlies and a Scottish Premier League opener against Aberdeen last weekend -- a 1-0 home win.

With a busy upcoming schedule, Celtic manager Neil Lennon decided to leave several first-team players in Glasgow (Giorgios Samaras, Mikael Lustig, James Forrest, Paddy McCourt and Scott Brown) and traveled youngsters like Callum McGregor and Marcus Fraser.

"We are probably playing the best club side in the world, currently," Lennon told Celtic’s official site. "It's a great opportunity for our players to challenge themselves against the best players in the world. I think it's a fantastic game for them in a fantastic venue.”

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Lennon’s may not be far from the truth based on what Real Madrid have shown thus far in the 2012 World Football Challenge. Los Merengues have swept by the LA Galaxy (5-1), Santos Laguna (2-1) and most recently AC Milan (5-1) at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. The match against Celtic is Real Madrid’s final tuneup before kicking off the new La Liga season against Valencia on Sunday, Aug. 19.

Real Madrid manager José Mourinho on Wednesday night bemoaned the fact that he would see most of his team called up to their national teams for FIFA fixtures and only return on Thursday, giving him precious little time to prepare the side before their La Liga opener. It makes the battle against Celtic all the more important.

Celtic are not new to Philadelphia, losing 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union in a match played 2010. This time around they added the opening of an academy in the city, setting up permanent roots in the area in a partnership with the Philadelphia Sports Zone group which was announced on Friday.

Real Madrid, who narrowly beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 at Lincoln Financial Field last year, have also been made to feel at home during their stay, taking up an invitation from the Philadelphia Eagles to be part of the NFL preseason match against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field. Eagles players also visited Madrid training earlier in the day.