Real Madrid rushes from Liga title to Peace Match

Within days of wining its 30th Spanish League title the superstars of Real Madrid visited West Asia for a brief 12-hour trip to play a “Peace Match” at Israel's National Stadium in Ramat Gan and train with mixed groups of Israeli and Palestinian children. The team may have just finished a long season which ended in Madrid being crowned champions in dramatic style only two days earlier, but the players showed no signs of fatigue as they romped to a 8-0 victory over a combined team of Jewish and Arab players from UEFA-member Israel and West Bank-based footballers from Asian Football Confederation-member Palestine on Tuesday evening.

The match, held in front of some 30,000 delighted supporters, was the third event of its kind organised by the Peres Centre for Peace to include a top Spanish football team. However, while the previous two games against Barcelona in 2005 and Seville in 2006 were played in Spain, this was the first time an entire squad of players from a top club had flown into Israel to show their support for the cause of peace.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon said it was his idea to play the game in Israel itself. “When Real Madrid was invited to participate in a Match for Peace not only did we not hesitate to accept to participate but we proposed to travel here to Tel Aviv and play here in your field,” Calderon said, addressing the president-elect and Peres Centre founder Shimon Peres. “Your offer is accepted with great enthusiasm by the people of Madrid. We stand here in Tel Aviv and offer ourselves to collaborate in other events.”

Recent surveys show Real Madrid to be the most popular football club in Spain with 32.8 percent interest followed by Barcelona with 25.7 per cent and dropping down to 5.3 percent for third-placed Valencia. Only 19.8 percent of the interviewees confessed to being "strong followers" of the Spanish national team.

Real Madrid's revenue will increase about 17 percent this year and next to maintain the club's status as "by far" the richest in football, President Ramon Calderon has told reporters in Madrid. Sales for the year ending June 30 will rise to 343 million euros (US$460 million), fueled by revenue from dozens of new VIP boxes at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Fiscal 2008 revenue will rise to almost 400 million euros as a seven-year, 1.2 billion-euro broadcast contract with Grupo Mediapro kicks in.

The club plans to sign an accord with a big American group on 17 July that will help it open shops selling team merchandise and promote team tours of the USA, Calderon said. "The American market is very important. They're playing a lot more soccer in states like California and Texas," he said as quoted by Bloomberg.