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U.S. pre-season tournament to expand to Asia: organizers

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - The International Champions Cup, the U.S. based pre-season tournament featuring leading European clubs, will be expanded to include a simultaneous competition in Asia next year.

This year's tournament, which concluded on Monday, was won by Manchester United and featured some huge crowds including 109,000 in Michigan for United's game with European champions Real Madrid.

The competition will return to the Unites States next year but organizers said they will also put on a series in Asia, almost certainly in Australia and China, for other clubs.

"In the U.S. we will not go above eight teams but we have opened up a sister company in Asia and the Guinness International Champions Cup will expand next year, most likely to Australia and China," Relevent Sports chief executive Charlie Stillitano told Reuters on Wednesday.

"It will be played in the same time, simultaneously, as the tournament in the U.S.

"The idea for the future is to perhaps have the winners of Asia to face the winners of the U.S. tournament in September in Europe, perhaps at one of the team's venues."

Relevent have set up a sister company in Asia and believe the success they have enjoyed in the past two years in North America can translate to a region which has previously hosted top Premier League teams in pre-season events.

"Our tournament captured the imaginations of Americans as well as the attention of European fans because of the seriousness of the tournament, games played at high intensity," he said of their format of two groups of four and then a final, which raised the competition above that of a friendly match.

"By making it a tournament, every game became important. The players know they are going to be judged on how they are going to play," Stillitano added.

Relevent expected four to six teams would feature in the Asian tournament and the aim was to keep teams close to a training base in order to limit travel.

The U.S. tournament is heading into the final year of a three-year broadcast agreement with Fox and has been shown in 150 countries.

"It has gone incredibly well for television both in the U.S. and internationally," said Stillitano who added that some changes would be made to the U.S. tournament with a team from Mexico and one from Major League Soccer possibly being included.

This year's tournament featured English premier league sides Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool, Serie A teams AC Milan, Inter Milan and AS Roma, Spain's Real Madrid and Greece's Olympiakos.

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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