The heat is on: fans urged to support exhibition match between Juventus and South China
A 4pm kick-off in searing temperatures, a lack of star players and pitiful ticket sales threaten to turn Saturday’s match at Hong Kong Stadium into a disaster
South China captain Chan Wai-ho has made an impassioned plea for fans to show their support for Saturday afternoon’s exhibition match against Italian Serie A champions Juventus as the current hot weather and lack of star players threaten to scupper the event.
With only 5,800 tickets sold as of Friday evening, the International Challenge Cup is not exactly firing up the imagination of the city with organisers trying to figure out how to fill seats in the 40,000-capacity stadium.
Chan understood that the only way the event was going to be a success was if more fans turn out for the game, which kicks off at 4pm, stressing it was a rare opportunity to see one of Europe’s biggest clubs in action.
“Juventus are a prominent side with many good players even though a lot of those players who played at the European Championship are not here,” he said. “We hope more people can come watch and support us as this is an international match.”
If fans do turn up on Saturday afternoon, they will have the hot weather to contend with – something Juventus forward Paulo Dybala is not looking forward to as the match will be held in the heat of the day with temperatures soaring above 30 degrees Celsius.
The 22-year-old Dybala said he will be playing in hot weather just days after travelling from Australia, where Juventus played two matches in very cool conditions.
“The weather here is different from Australia where we played two matches but we still need the same fitness to play the game,” he said. “If the temperature is too hot, it will be difficult for us.”
Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Juventus’ star players might be disappointed as the Turin club have not brought players who featured in the European Championship. That includes six Italy internationals headed by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The club’s France international, Paul Pogba, who had a brilliant 2016 Euro campaign, is also rumoured to be joining Premier League giants, Manchester United, and is another notable absentee in Hong Kong together with record club signing, Gonzalo Higuain.
Meanwhile, Dybala is excited that he will be joining forces with fellow Argentina international Higuain for the new Serie A season, which kicks off on August 21.
Dybala scored 19 goals for Juve last season and with Higuain hitting 36 goals for Napoli to top the scoring charts last season before his move to Juventus, Dybala was licking his lips at the prospect of a goal rush for the Italian champions in the new campaign.
“We have known each other from the Italy national team,” said Dybala, one of Serie A’s most exciting young players. “We have kept in touch even though we were playing for different clubs. Higuain has vast experience in Serie A and I’m look forward to working with him for the new season.”
Dybala expressed disappointment he will not be going to the Rio Olympics because Juventus have refused to release him for the Games.
“The Olympic Games is not a Fifa event and the club has no obligation to release me,” he said. “Juventus wants me to stay and prepare for the new season so I cannot represent my country in Rio.”
Coach Massimiliano Allegri said Juventus have signed five new recruits so far this summer, including Higuain, and will continue to buy new players “if necessary”.
“Juventus are a rich club,” said the 48-year-old coach, who is in Hong Kong for the game. “We have secured new players but it will still not be easy to defend our [Serie A] championship.
“We will return to Turin right after the match and start our preparations for the season immediately.”
South China, who defeated Juventus 2-1 when the two sides last met in Hong Kong in 2008, will use Saturday’s exhibition to prepare for their all-important AFC Cup quarter-final match against Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia in September.
However, central half Bojan Malisic will not be available for the game because of a foot injury, while new signing Nikola Komazec has yet to obtain his work permit.