FLUSHING – Excitement is building throughout the NY Metropolitan area for the city’s first soccer match by Olympiacos in 27 years.
The Greek mega team will face off in the inaugural match of the Guinness International Champions Cup against Italian giant AC Milan at Citifield on July 24. Eight of the world’s top teams will partake in 12 round robin contests across North America.
Olympiacos will also play Liverpool on July 27 at Soldier Field in Chicago and Manchester City in Minneapolis on August 2.
Three Olympiacos players, Balazs Megyeri, David Fuster, Ariel Ibagaza, who joined the team around the same time four years ago and became friends, visited Citifield for the New York Mets-Arizona Diamondbacks game on May 24.
They asked about the unfamiliar American national pastime and how its peculiar field will be turned into a football pitch. Hospitable Mets officials explained it takes three days to prepare it and three more days to convert it back into a baseball diamond.
The Mets organization, whose Queens home contains the some of the largest population of Greeks and Italians in the world, is thrilled to host a game between the top teams of their homelands at one of the country’s most fan-friendly stadiums.
Although none of the Olympiacos footballers had ever played baseball, they were pleased to learn that the Mets stars – Daniel Murphy, Chris Young and Bobby Abreu, who stopped by to chat – knew soccer well.
TNH answered some questions about the “foreign” sport of baseball that fascinated them as they stood watching batting practice. The footballers learned that the teamwork comes in after the gladiator-like battle between the pitcher and the batter.
One observed “It’s hard to hit the ball,” only to be told that it’s harder than it looks because in batting practice, the pitcher lets them hit 50 MPH pitches but during games the balls not only approach 100 MPH, they curve, too.
Megyeri, a 24 year-old goalie, came to Olympiacos from his native Hungary about four years ago
The tournament is preseason competition, but they play to win at full-strength. “We are looking forward to playing Europe’s biggest teams in this stadium…We also want to show something to the American fans and the big Greek community,” he said.
Megyeri knew Greece before signing up with Olympiacos, winners of 41 league titles and 26 Greek Cup titles.
“It is a lovely country and the people are very friendly,” he said, and he appreciates that management is passionate and constantly strives to boost its European competitiveness.
David Fuster and his wife, Angela Vengut, are from Valencia in Spain. He too visited Greece before joining Olympiacos and loved his time on Santorini and Mykonos.
Ariel Ibagaza, who brought his son to Citifield, is from Buenos Aires, is also excited about seeing a big Greek crowd come to Citifield to watch his team play in the game which will be broadcast internationally on FOX Sports 1.
Theodore Menis, president of the Olympiacos fan club in Astoria, told TNH “It’s a big deal, the first time in 27 years and we planning a number of events, including a welcoming reception and an event co-sponsored by UNICEF.”
The excitement was pumped up by the annual Olympiacos dinner dance that was held on May 23. Menis said some players will arrive as early as June and fans can request information by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tickets can be purchased at www.internationalchampionscup.com.