HKFA chief urges fans to turn up in force
Darlings of the crowd South China are not in the final of the Asian Challenge Cup, but top official Brian Leung Hung-tak was hopeful that the fans would still turn up in numbers at Hong Kong Stadium today.
South China will play in the earlier third-place play-off against South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai. Their hopes of playing in the final of the annual tournament held to celebrate the Lunar New Year were dashed by Guangzhou Evergrande, who beat them 1-0 last Thursday.
'It is a shame South China are not in the final but I still hope we will get a better crowd than that which turned up on the first day,' said Leung, chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association.
Only 10,037 fans - of which just 8,636 paid to get through the turnstiles resulting in gate receipts of HK$1,553,120 - turned up for the double-header on the opening day of the four-team competition.
Despite the low attendance at the 40,000-capacity stadium, Leung was pleased with the calibre of competition, especially at the performance of Chinese Super League team Tianjin Teda - runners-up in the mainland's top-tier competition last season - who handed out a 4-0 thrashing to Ulsan Hyundai.
With Tianjin preparing for the start of the Super League in a month's time, coach Arie Haan is using the trip as a build-up to the campaign to win the championship this season.
The Dutchman is also trying out a couple of players, including former China captain Li Weifeng, who is returning after playing two seasons in South Korea, as well as Australian Gareth Edds, who plays for A-League side North Queensland Fury.
While winning honours in the Chinese Super League is important, Tianjin will not sniff at the opportunity to defeat China First Division side Guangzhou Evergrande and take home the US$100,000 winners' purse.
As for South China, they will be hoping everything falls into place for star ex-English Premier League signings Nicky Butt and Mateja Kezman, who have still to finish on the winning side.
'Our goal is the AFC [Asian Football Confederation] Cup in March. We want to get everything right before that and this tournament is a useful build-up,' South China convenor Steven Lo Kit-sing said.
But it would also be nice to see ex-Manchester United midfielder Butt and ex-Chelsea striker Kezman firing South China to a win. The fans who turn up today would love that.