Putting on a brave face: organisers shrug off poor turnout for Juventus in Hong Kong

Just 14,000 fans watch Italian champions, lacking many stars, take on South China at Hong Kong Stadium – but officials put a positive spin on the event, saying it wasn’t all bad

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2016, 12:07pm

Organisers of Saturday’s AET International Challenge Cup featuring Italian giants Juventus put on a brave face despite a less than enthusiastic response from fans in what turned out to be a money-losing venture at Hong Kong Stadium.

About 14,000 people turned out to watch the match, which saw the Italian champions beat local side South China 2-1, thanks to a late goal from ­Lorenzo Rossetti. Organisers had said they needed to fill at least half of the 40,000-capacity So Kun Po ­venue to break even but the gate receipts produced just HK$2.7 million in revenue.

Despite the absence of marquee players, Juventus, winners of an unprecedented five straight Serie A titles, still gave Hong Kong fans something to cheer about. Organisers looked on the positive side, saying the crowd attendance “wasn’t too bad” considering the Turin club were missing big names like veteran Gianluigi Buffon, France star Paul Pogba and record signing Gonzalo Higuain.

Third time lucky: Serie A champions Juventus beat South China to claim first win in Hong Kong

“I think the attendance wasn’t too disappointing considering the line-up we saw from Juventus,” said an official from the organisers. “Many of their big stars couldn’t come because they were resting on holiday after the European Championship. Of course we would like to have more people come and watch as the gate receipts weren’t enough to cover our expenses, but the figure is quite encouraging as we sold only 5,800 tickets by Friday.”

The spokesman said the cooler weather also helped attract a bigger crowd as “it was not as hot and humid as in previous days and this was good for both fans and players”, he said.

Most fans returned home happy as they ­witnessed the skills of rising young star Paulo Dybala, as well as new recruits Miralem Pjanic and Medhi Benatia, who willingly engaged with fans, signing autographs and taking selfies.

Juventus arrived in Hong Kong from Australia, where they played two matches. They lost to Melbourne Victory after a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw but beat Premier League side Tottenham 2-1.

“We had a chance to see Juventus because they were on their way home from Australia. If a similar situation arises in future, we will certainly consider another tournament like this,” said the official.

The match itself provided some entertainment for fans. Hong Kong international Chan Siu-ki opened the scoring for the home team after 21 minutes but the Caroliners’ jubilation was short-lived after Juventus new recruit Bentia soon levelled the score five minutes later.

Rosseti wrapped up the match for the visitors with a late goal after South China goalkeeper Cristian Mora failed to hold a shot from Stefano Padovan and Rosseti reacted quickest as he easily tucked the ball away in front of goal.

Fans on social media hailed Chan an “overseas team killer” after scoring his goal, but the 31-year-old said he was just doing his job.

“If I were really the killer, we would have won the match,” said South China striker Chan, who struggled with form last season but seems to be returning to fitness for the coming campaign.

“It was a tough match as Juventus pressed us hard, especially in the first half.

“It was good training for us as we prepare for the new season and the AFC Cup quarter-finals in ­September.”

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri refused to comment on the future of their French international Pogba who is rumoured to be joining Manchester United for a reported fee of £100 million (HK$1.02 billion).

“On Tuesday I will be back at the club and we will discuss it,” said Allegri, who left Hong Kong with his players on Saturday night. “What I can say is I am happy with what we have done on the market so far.”

The Italian will hook up with the rest of his squad on his return to their Turin base, where he will meet their club record signing, Higuain, who was lured from rivals Napoli for a reported 90 million (HK$780 million).