BERKELEY -- The popularity of the World Cup and the lure of celebrity players who never intended to show proved enough to turn Cal into soccer central Saturday afternoon.
A sellout crowd of 62,583 crammed into Strawberry Canyon for the first soccer game ever at Memorial Stadium, with Inter Milan scoring a 3-2 shootout victory over Real Madrid.
The event was part of the Guinness International Champions Cup, a summer exhibition tournament held throughout the United States featuring eight well-known European teams that begin their respective league seasons next month.
Real, one of the world's most respected and richest clubs, was the main attraction as reigning UEFA Champions League winners.
But this wasn't the Real of Cristiano Ronaldo, the FIFA world player of the year, who arrived Saturday in California where his team is training. World Cup stars Toni Kroos of Germany and James Rodriguez of Colombia recently signed with Real and still are recovering from the long summer in Brazil. Big names such as Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria and Sergio Ramos also didn't appear.
That left one bona fide star in Wales' Gareth Bale, who normally shares celebrity status with the talented Galacticos' roster.
Bale, 25, didn't have a chance to lengthen his season this summer because tiny Wales has reached the World Cup finals only once -- in 1958. The mountainous country finished fifth out of six teams in European group qualifying for the '14 World Cup.
As a result, the Cardiff native has fresh legs with his season ending in May at the Champions League final. It showed in the first half as Bale dominated play with sharp passes, crisp movement and shots on frame.
"He had a good holiday," Real coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "He's doing what he wasn't able to do last year."
In 2013, Bale landed in Spain from Tottenham Hotspur for an astronomical transfer of as much as $91 million, according to reports. The sum was larger than Ronaldo's.
But Bale had a slow start because of injuries. The midfielder ended with 22 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions for Real after establishing himself an international star at Tottenham.
Bale casually headed a ball in the third minute that hit the top of the crossbar, the first sign of his preparedness.
In the 10th minute, Bale buried a 25-yard shot off his left foot. Inter defenders gave him too much space as he paused to curl a shot inside the near post.
"Real Madrid has a lot of great players," said Inter central midfielder Rene Krhin of Slovenia. "We knew they could do something and could surprise us."
But so could the Italians, who came out aggressively in the second half.
Referee Ricardo Salazar whistled 42 fouls and issued four yellow cards for the entire game.
Inter got the equalizer in 68th minute after second-half substitute Ruben Sobrino flattened former Manchester United star Nemanja Vidic in the area. Mauro Icardi calmly scored past the reach of keeper Jesus Fernandez.
Despite the intensity, the game had the feel of a soccer festival as a boy raced onto the field in the second half during a brief stop in play. The boy, wearing an oversized white Real jersey, was escorted away by police to chants of "Let him go."
Inter coach Walter Mazzarri appreciated the crowd that treated the exhibition as if it were the real deal. He attributed the World Cup's success this month to soccer's growing interest in the United States.
"I hope Americans' enthusiasm of our sport continues to grow," Mazzarri said.
The ending gave fans something to talk about on the long commute out of the stadium. Despite a number of chances late in the game, the score ended 1-1 after regulation time. The tournament format called for no extra time, so the teams went straight to a penalty kick shootout.
Real took a 2-1 lead after Nacho Fernandez's goal. But Real whiffed on its final two tries: Asier Illarramendi's shot was blocked, and Omar Mascarell shanked his wide right.
That allowed Inter defender Juan Jesus to tie the score and Icardi to blast in the game winner.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.