Nakata seeks support from HK fans
Japanese legend Hidetoshi Nakata yesterday added his voice to the earthquake charity call, appealing for fans to support tonight's Canon Cup encounter between league champions Kitchee and Spain's Villarreal at Hong Kong Stadium.
'I hope the Hong Kong people will support this match. It is for a good cause and I'm looking forward to seeing the fans turn up in their numbers,' Nakata, who will be the guest player for Kitchee, said.
Organisers yesterday revealed only around 4,000 tickets had been sold for the game which doubles as Kitchee's 80th anniversary celebrations and a fund-raiser for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.
But Kitchee chairman Ken Ng Kin believes sales will pick up at the gate tonight. 'Yes, tickets sales have been poor but most tickets are sold at the gates and I expect a large crowd will turn up,' Ng said.
A big crowd at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium will be testament to Nakata's view that the links between Japan and Hong Kong are close, and strung together by a common culture and customs.
'Many Hong Kong people like Japan and we share a common culture. We need the support of Hong Kong and other countries, as Japan goes through a bad time,' Nakata said.
'It is very important to the Japanese to see that people care for us, and that the Hong Kong people are close to Japan.'
It has been five years since Nakata retired from the international scene, with most people saying it came prematurely, at the age of 29.
During his 10-year career, the exciting midfielder played for Japan at three World Cups and two Olympic Games. Most of his club career was spent in Italy in the Serie A.
Yesterday, he trained with Kitchee at the stadium. It seemed as if he had never left the game as he bubbled with enthusiasm.
'I really enjoyed that,' Nakata said after a 90-minute workout. Since the tsunami hit on March 11, Nakata has been travelling around the world, raising funds for his stricken countrymen.
'I was in Hong Kong when the disaster happened. I sw it on TV and I couldn't believe it,' Nakata said, 'I called my family and friends to see if they were OK.'
They were fine, but the magnitude nine earthquake which triggered the tsunami claimed more than 15,000 lives. Nakata has played fund-raising games in Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand as well as in Italy. Now it's Hong Kong's turn.
'We will start with Nakata,' Kitchee head coach Josep Gombau said. 'The fans will come to see him and, of course, Villarreal.
'It will be a good game. They have seven Spanish internationals in their side and we will try to match them. But this is more than just a match. We are playing for a cause,' Gombau said. Ng has pledged all profits from the game will be given to the Japanese earthquake victims through Unicef. But first the costs - HK$6 million - will have to be covered.
'We will need to sell at least 10,000 tickets to break even,' Ng said. 'Yesterday, one person bought 50 HK$400 tickets. There are people supporting us, but we need the public to back us.'
The minimum number of paying fans organisers need to fill the stadium and meet all the costs for tonight's match between Kitchee and Villareal