Chelsea's stars coming out to play in territory

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 1997, 12:00am

The good news is that stylish Chelsea have confirmed a star-studded lineup for their exhibition match against South China on May 22.

The bad news is that organisers have had no choice but to play the match at the 12,000-capacity Siu Sai Wan Stadium, instead of the 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium, because the So Kon Po facility will be closed for maintenance from April 7 until June 9, in preparation for the handover celebrations.

Full-house signs are certain to be put up at Siu Sai Wan after Chelsea confirmed all their star players for the South China match, and that includes Italian internationals Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo and Gianluca Vialli.

The English Premier League side will also include combative Welshman Mark Hughes, who recently pledged his immediate future to the club, and their captain Dennis Wise.

Chelsea will also play matches in Thailand and Malaysia as part of their Asian tour.

'We are delighted that Chelsea are sending a full team to Hong Kong but somewhat dismayed that the match can't be played at the bigger Hong Kong Stadium. This is something we have to live with,' said Julian Kam, of match organisers Pro-Event.

'All the top Chelsea players have been confirmed by the club's managing director Colin Hutchinson so we are anticipating a great match.

'We did not expect Chelsea to send a full team, but they are very keen on coming.

'It's a pity that the match can only be played at Siu Sai Wan, but what can we do?.' The Siu Sai Wan Stadium, which opened last month, hosted the friendly between the Hong Kong World Cup side and Japan's Cerezo Osaka which Hong Kong won on penalties. The match was attended by about 7,000 spectators, even though admission was free.

'We hope we get a full house at Siu Sai Wan nevertheless. This is something we'll be working hard on,' said Kam.

'The atmosphere will be great if we have a capacity crowd at Siu Sai Wan.

'I understand our governor, Chris Patten, is also a big Chelsea fan. I don't think people mind going to Siu Sai Wan because it's within walking distance from the MTR station.' Chelsea will play in the territory for the first time in three years after taking on the Hong Kong League XI - and losing - at the Hong Kong Stadium in 1994.

The Hong Kong League XI inflicted a 2-1 defeat just days after the London side were thrashed 4-0 by Manchester United in the FA Cup final.

Chelsea were led then by Glenn Hoddle, now the England manager, and the side included all their top players like John Spencer and Gavin Peacock.

Under Dutch manager Ruud Gullit, Chelsea are having a tremendous season and are odds-on favourites to win this year's FA Cup - especially after their performance in the fourth round when they came from behind to beat Liverpool 4-2.

Down 2-0, Chelsea stormed back to seal one of the most dramatic FA Cup fightbacks of modern times.

The London club then beat Leicester 1-0 to reach the semi-finals where they will meet fellow English Premier side Wimbledon for a place in the FA Cup final on May 17.

Chelsea, who are currently sixth in the Premier League table, are scheduled to leave London for Hong Kong a day after the FA Cup final - whether they reach that stage or not.

Should there be a need for an FA Cup final replay on May 22, the South China match will be switched to May 25.

Chelsea's Italian stars will skip the Malaysian leg of the Asian tour on May 31 as they will take part in the Tournament de France.

Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit last appeared in the territory in June, 1995.

The former Dutch international played here for Sampdoria against Sing Tao - a few weeks before his move to Stamford Bridge.

South China will also play Manchester United on July 3 at the Hong Kong Stadium.

United have also promised to bring a full side, to comply with conditions set down by their Japanese sponsors, Sharp.

Spectators will have a feast of top-class action this summer with Italian giants Inter Milan down to play Sing Tao in June and the Asian All-Stars scheduled to play the Rest of the World to celebrate the handover in July.