Ajax, Barca, Real, Walsall: 10 of football’s unlikeliest pre-season friendlies

As players gear up for 2022/23, we look at some of history's more unusual match-ups

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It is that time again, when players return to their clubs and are put through their paces ahead of the upcoming season.

Fans are eager to see their new signings, the team playing in the new kit, and youngsters being given the chance to showcase their talents.

Over the years, there have been some weird and wonderful combinations of pre-season friendlies.

Here we have picked out some of the most unusual.

10. Qatar v Linfield (2022)

Qatar suffered an embarrassing defeat just months before they kick-off the World Cup in November.

The Gulf state, who are 51st in Fifa's world rankings, lost 1-0 to Northern Irish champions Linfield in a friendly in Marbella.

Forward Chris McKee netted the all-important goal for the Belfast club, with Qatar fielding several senior players in their line-up.

One for the Linfield history books.

9. Deportivo La Coruna v Pontypridd Town (2015)

Pontypridd managed to secure a friendly against Spanish side Deportiva La Coruna seven years ago.

The tiny Welsh League outfit, full of builders, scaffolders and policemen, were thrilled to line up against the Spanish side, despite suffering a 4-0 defeat.

8. Fluminense U23 v Exeter City (2014)

Exeter City travelled to the Estadio das Laranjeiras to play Fluminense’s Under-23s, a 18,000-kilometre round-trip.

The Grecians managed to secure a 0-0 draw against the Brazilian side, with manager Paul Tisdale describing the match as one of the most enjoyable he’d ever been involved in.

More than 150 travelling fans had made the longest away trip in the club’s history, and the well-earned draw against the Guerreiros, will no doubt forever be remembered in Devon.

7. FC United of Manchester v Benfica (2010)

In what was FC United of Manchester’s first proper match at their ground, more than 4,200 Mancunians cheered on their team at Broadhurst Park.

The home side lost the match 1-0, with Diogo Gonclaves netting the only goal for the Portuguese giants.

6. Hibernian v Barcelona (2006)

Pep Guardiola’s illustrious managerial career began not at Camp Nou, but at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby, against Hibernian.

Facing Hearts at the same venue the previous summer, Barca decided to return to Edinburgh to face Mixu Paatelainen’s side.

Guardiola fielded a full-strength side, winning 6-0 on the day. Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure all featured for the away side, and it was a certain Lionel Messi who ran the game and was named man of the match.

5. Accrington Stanley v Marseille (2019)

Accrington Stanley beat nine-time French league champions Marseille 2-1 three-years ago in front of 1,000 spectators at Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium.

Despite Marseille’s best efforts, and their ability to make ten changes for the second half, Stanley prevailed, fielding two trialists in the process.

4. Juventus v Notts County (2011)

Notts County were invited to play in a friendly following the opening of Juventus’ new stadium in 2011.

The Serie A giants switched to their famous black-and-white strip in 1903 on the guidance of English import John Savage, a fan of the County team.

A week into their 2011-12 season, the Midlanders made the trip to Turin. Martin Allen’s side looked to be heading for a 1-0 defeat, only for Lee Hughes to grab the equaliser right at the death.

Among Juve’s line-up that day was Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro del Piero and new signing Andrea Pirlo.

3. Walsall v Ajax (2018)

Ajax reached the Champions League semi-final in the 2018-19 campaign, something few would have predicted given their 2-0 defeat to the Saddlers before the new season got under way.

Managed by new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag, he took his Eredivisie champions to Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium in the West Midlands.

They were stunned in a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of the League One outfit, who were relegated to League Two come the end of that campaign.

2. AFC Bournemouth v Real Madrid (2013)

AFC Bournemouth welcomed Real Madrid to Dean Court in the summer of 2013. Fans queued overnight to buy tickets, which cost up to £60, and the match was played in front of a capacity 12,000 crowd.

Los Blancos headed to the South Coast club with a star-studded line-up which included Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil and new signing Isco.

It was Carlo Ancelotti’s first game in charge, and the Spanish champions eased to a 6-0 victory.

Ronaldo scored a first-half brace, before Germany midfielder Sami Khedira added a third before the break.

Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Casemiro scored second-half goals, as the Galacticos ran riot against the Cherries.

1. Plymouth Argyle v Real Madrid (2006)

Nowadays you could never imagine La Liga champions and 14-times Champions League winners Real Madrid rocking up to face League One side Plymouth Argyle. However, 16-years ago, it happened.

Los Blancos were planning a pre-season training camp in Austria, but the hotel they were due to stay at was being used by the Pilgrims.

Argyle decided to use alternative accommodation, to allow Madrid to use the hotel, and in doing so, Madrid, managed by ex-England boss Fabio Capello, rewarded the South Coast club’s good deed by playing them.

Around 200 fans made the 2,000-mile trip from Plymouth to the mountainous city of Kapfenberg in Austria.

Plymouth put up a great fight, but a Julio Baptista penalty secured a 1-0 victory for Madrid.

Updated: July 14, 2022, 2:53 AM