Ljungberg blow for HK showpiece
Asian Challenge Cup organisers South China last night put pressure on Shimizu S-Pulse to bring former Sweden international Freddie Ljungberg to Hong Kong for next week's tournament.
The J.League club said Ljungberg - one of the main drawcards and selling points for the Lunar New Year showpiece - was injured and recovering in Sweden, but that did not satisfy South China boss Steven Lo Kit-sing. Seongnam Ilhwa of South Korea and Guangzhou R&F of China are the other invited teams.
'We only found out about it [Ljungberg's absence] today and have contacted the Japanese side. We were told Ljungberg is injured and is back home in Sweden recovering. Of course, it is disappointing as we were looking forward to seeing him play against Mateja Kezman.'
Lo said they had not given up hope of getting Ljungberg to Hong Kong, even if the former Arsenal star would not be able to play. 'We stated it very clearly to Shimizu we wanted Ljungberg to play here, even if for a few minutes, but if he really cannot play we still want him to come as a guest.'
Lo said Shimizu still oozed quality and he expected bigger crowds than last year.'The standard of the J.League is very high and Shimizu still have some other very good players. It will be a very difficult game when we play against them on the first day of the tournament [Monday],' said Lo. 'We have already sold more than 10,000 tickets for the two days and I am confident more fans will turn up than last year's attendance of 21,000.'
Kezman, who arrived yesterday and joined his former team for a light workout, said: 'It's a pity if Ljungberg cannot come. He is a huge player and we played against each other a number of times in the Premier League.'
Kezman, who will officially end his career of more than two decades next week, said he planned to start up a players' agency.
'I will run an agency in Belgrade selling players and will also open offices in London and Paris because of my connections there,' said the former Serbia international. 'I will also take the opportunity next week to meet the three other clubs here to see if my business can be extended to the growing market in Asia.'
Kezman, who last played for Belarus side Bate Borisov in November in the Uefa Champions League, admitted he would not be at his best for the tournament. 'I spent a lot of time skiing over the past six weeks, but I'll work hard to regain my form. All I want is to give my best in my last two games to the Hong Kong fans as they treated me so well when I played here. The Chinese New Year is about fun and celebrations and I will try to make the fans as happy as possible.'
Shimizu boast two household names in Japan - attacking midfielder Shinji Ono and striker Naohiro Takahara. Ono helped Dutch side Feyenoord win the 2002 Uefa Cup, while Takahara played for Hamburg from 2003 to 2006 before moving to another Bundesliga side, Eintracht Frankfurt. He scored 12 goals for Frankfurt in 38 appearances in 2007.