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Soccer fans still score with Santos

Remember the scene in “Risky Business” where Bill Rutherford of the Princeton admissions office is going over Joel Goodsen’s application? And though Joel has done “a lot of solid work” in high school, “it’s just not Ivy League now, is it?”

And then Rebecca De Mornay, as the sultry call girl Lana, walks in and asks Joel/Tom Cruise how the interview is going. To which he famously replies: “Looks like the University of Illinois!”

Well, that reminds me of this upcoming World Football Challenge at Sam Boyd Stadium.

It was going to be international soccer behemoth Real Madrid of Spain against international soccer behemoth Juventus of Italy. Four Madrid stalwarts and six Juve pacesetters were matched up in Sunday’s big European Championship final pitting Spain vs. Italy. ESPN’s ratings for the tournament – and international soccer in general – were up, way up.

“It looked like the perfect matchup,” said Justice Entertainment Group president Daren Libonati, whose company is promoting the local soccer game.  

Then the Chinese got involved, and you know what happens when Chinese money talks.

Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo and the Juventus stars walk. They also walked from scheduled games in Washington, D.C. and Montreal.

So instead of playing international soccer against Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka and Iker Casillas and Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso and all those other household names of soccer from Real Madrid on Aug. 5, Juventus will be in Beijing preparing for the Italian Super Cup – think of this as Dallas vs. the Giants on Wednesday night of Week 1 of the NFL – against Serie A rival Napoli.

So, it looks like the University of Illinois. Or at least Santos Laguna of the Mexican league, substituting for Juventus in the 83rd minute – after a lot of tickets had been sold, a lot of billboards raised, a lot of TV advertising paid for.

To again paraphrase “Risky Business” – and what an ideal name that would be for a sports promotions company – if there’s one thing that Libonati has learned in all his years it’s that sometimes you’ve got to say what the, um, heck. And make your move.

Libonati’s move was to see what Las Vegan Herculez Gomez and Santos were up to that weekend. That was sort of his original plan anyway, after lining up Ronaldo and his pals from Real Madrid, one of the world’s most revered club sides.

His first inclination, even before Juventus came on board, was to invite Club America of Mexico City, which would appeal to the thousands of potential ticket-buying Mexicans who live here.

Plus, Libonati figured if you put a bunch of Mexicans on the pitch against a bunch of Spaniards, the Mexicans would come out fired up. Because, you know, these nations have a history. And maybe the Mexicans might even score a goal on a set piece or something, and then that would get the Spaniards fired up, too.

And then instead of a meaningless friendly, which is what they call these preseason games in soccer, it would be intense, with lots of yellow cards and guys taking dives in the 18-yard box.

It would be “Game on.” And then Cristiano Ronaldo might be moved to try hard, instead of just running up and down the wing a few times while waving to girls nearly as pretty as he is.

“There’s a reason he’s on the (billboards),” Libonati said before adding the pretty girls need not worry, that barring a broken leg, it is written in the contract that Ronaldo must play here, and even if he breaks his leg, he must sign autographs on the concourse with a broken leg.

No, it won’t be as great as if Juventus was coming, because Juventus has Buffon in goal, and Buffon always has that wild look in his eye. Plus, Juventus has won 52 championships, more than any other team in Italy. Club Santos Laguna has won four.

Libonati said some Italians – not as many as he feared – have asked for their lire back, and that it has cost more than $30,000 to change all those billboards and posters and advertising in the Los Angeles market.

But think about it: Had Santos been announced as Real Madrid’s opponent before Juventus, would people around here who follow international soccer have been totally stoked?

You bet.

So instead of Yankees vs. Red Sox, it’s gonna be Yankees vs. Royals or Yankees vs. the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.   

Unless you’re riding the ‘L’ train with Lana that night, it’s still some risky business worth checking out.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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