Juventus excited at National Stadium first
Juventus excited they will be the first to play a football match at the new National Stadium
It was touted as a big game, played at the iconic new National Stadium, the crown jewel of the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub, constructed to help spark the revival of a sporting culture in the country.
On Aug 16, Bernd Stange's Singapore Selection are set to play the role of David, against the goliaths of Juventus, kings of Serie A, who have won every major European club title.
As it turns out, the big game will now also be a historic occasion.
After the postponement of the Singapore-Malaysia international friendly on Aug 8, the "Grand Old Lady" of Italian football will now have the honour of being the first team to step out onto the new hybrid turf at the 55,000-capacity stadium and take on a Singapore Selection side.
"Everyone connected with the club is excited at the prospect of playing in Singapore - and it's extra special that it will be the first major football match at the country's brand new National Stadium," said Francesco Calvo, Juventus' commercial director, on the sidelines of a luncheon at Fullerton Hotel yesterday.
"We know we're making history here, but Juventus are a club that are quite used to making history."
Juventus continue to blaze new trails.
Led by Antonio Conte, they became the first team in the modern 38-match format to go through an entire Serie A season unbeaten in the 2011-2012 campaign; conceding a miserly 20 goals - another record.
Conte's charges chalked up 102 points en route to winning their third consecutive Scudetto in the most recent Serie A campaign, setting yet another benchmark.
They will break new ground on Aug 16 as part of their pre-season tune-up.
The match will also be a battle to win hearts and minds.
Italian football has fallen behind the other major European leagues in terms of money, sponsorship, attendance and reach, and it is time to catch up, especially in Asia.
Said Calvo: "The Premier League started the process... 20 years ago, so we cannot catch up with them in five years, but at least we can be the second best in class, that will be a big achievement."
And Singapore will be the ideal launch-pad for the mission.
"For us, it is very important to come to Asia in a year that most clubs are not coming because of the World Cup. It is an opportunity that other clubs are not here," he said.
"We consider Singapore a very important city into Asia and I believe opening the National Stadium will play a major role for us."
Calvo promised that his players will engage with fans as the club embrace social media platforms to spread their brand.
But on-field performances will not be overlooked.
"We won't be doing things any different. On the sporting side normal activities will go on, we need to train and put fuel into players' legs for the season. We will take every match seriously," Calvo insisted.
He reiterated that barring injuries, Juve's best - from Andrea Pirlo to Gianluigi Buffon and Carlos Tevez - will all travel here.
"I hope the stadium will be sold out, and the dream is that there will be 55,000 fans singing Italian stadium songs like we had in China (when Juve beat Napoli 4-2 in the 2012 Supercoppa in Beijing)," said Calvo.
"Now that will be an experience."
Tickets for the match can be purchased via Sports Hub Tix at www.sportshubtix.sg, the box office at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, at all SingPost Outlets or by calling +65 6333 5000 / +65 3158 7888.
Early birds will receive a 10 per cent discount on tickets, but this offer will only last for as long as Italy remain in the running for the World Cup in Brazil from June 12 to July 13. There is also an offer for "teams" of fans who can win exclusive access to a Juventus training session here by purchasing 11 tickets at one time.
The Sports Hub is a great facility and, as an Italian, I can only be jealous... that the public sector and private sector both invest to build something that can only benefit the public, and we have the honour to come as an ambassador of this (facility).
— Juventus commercial director Francesco Calvo
Tweak to Malaysia Cup schedule will boost Stange's side
National coach Bernd Stange has been charged with flying the Republic's flag in the first football match at the new National Stadium, leading a Singapore Selection against the famed black and white of Italian giants Juventus.
Kick-off is on Aug 16, and the German faces a couple of tricky areas to negotiate. The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) calendar has scheduled the final three Malaysia Cup group fixtures on Aug 12, 16 and 19.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad will want to do well in the competition after the Singapore side failed to make an impression in their defence of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title.
With Stange's last national squad featuring 12 LionsXII players in an 18-man squad, and the German calling for the "best available players" to play against the Serie A champions, player availability is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Speaking on the sidelines of a luncheon with Juventus officials at Fullerton Hotel yesterday, the 66-year-old said: "We should try to show our face against Juventus, to show what we have learnt and get a good result.
"It's a matter of priorities, and the priority is that our best team are available for the match against Juventus."
The New Paper understands that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is in conversation with its Malaysian counterparts over the possibility of a compromise on the fixtures.
"The dates of the Malaysia Cup fixtures are tentative at this point, and confirmation will only be made at a later time. Therefore, it is premature for us to comment on a possible clash of dates," said Gerard Wong, the FAS' director of marketing and communications. "However, we wish to reiterate that our staff coaches always work closely together."
Stange revealed that he has his eye on "one to three players" that he believes "have a chance to become Singaporeans", and they are likely to play some part in the match against Antonio Conte's Juventus.
"I'm not ready to mention any names, but I have a few players in mind," he said.
In an earlier interview, Stange told TNP that he was looking at Home United's versatile Frenchman Sirina Camara, 23, and Warriors FC's Argentine forward Nicholas Velez.
World football governing body, Fifa, has a five-year residency requirement for foreign-born players who wish to play for their adopted country.
Canadian pair Jordan Webb, 26, and 24-year-old Sherif El-Masri, who have been drafted into S-League side Courts Young Lions - effectively the national Under-23 side - are also being tracked by the FAS.
El-Masri arrived in 2009 with Home United, while Webb's first Singapore stint - with Hougang United - kicked off in 2010.
"I'm looking for younger players for a bright future for Singapore football," said Stange.
"For now, our national team is all-local and very young. It would be good to add one or two top players who are available and ready to play for Singapore."