HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Hong Kong Football Association were left red-faced and out of pocket after only managing to sell half the tickets for Tuesday’s glamour friendly against Argentina to mark their centenary.
Only 20,230 turned up at the 40,000 capacity Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday to witness a two-goal, 30 minute cameo by four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi in a lop-sided 7-0 stroll for the World Cup runners-up.
The South China Morning Post had reported months ago that the HKFA needed a full house in order to break even after pricing the cost of staging the fixture at HK$30 million (US$3.87 million).
“It is a shame. The second-best team in the world is here and we have a half-empty stadium,” HKFA Mark Sutcliffe told the paper after the match.
“We will have a debrief with the agent and with all of our team. We will try to find out the reasons.”
Expensive ticket prices could be blamed, while many other Hong Kong residents simply have far more important things to worry about than football. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the Chinese-controlled city in recent weeks, demanding that Beijing stand by a promise to introduce universal suffrage at elections for its leader in 2017.
Central parts of Hong Kong have been brought to a standstill by protests now into their third week, although numbers have dwindled to hundreds after police intervention.
The political mood was captured during the Argentina match, where boos could be heard for the Chinese national anthem before kick-off and yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the Occupy Central movement, were seen in the stands.
Home fans, some wearing Argentina shirts, cheered as the visitors racked up the goals with Ever Banega opening the scoring before Gonzalo Higuain and Nicolas Gaitan also netted twice along with Messi.
One fan picked up an autograph from the Barcelona striker after running onto the field in a security breach, while Hong Kong forward Christian Kwesi Annan ended up collecting the prized possession of the Argentine skipper’s shirt.
“I am saving it for life. I’m not going to trade it for anything. I’m going to frame it, put it on the wall and then treasure it,” the Ghanaian-born striker told the paper.