Sunday 21 July 2013

Sunderland's Di Canio relishing 'real test' of Barclays Asia Trophy

Black Cats head coach says taking on elite opposition is true challenge for his players in Hong Kong

  • John O'Shea meets fans and the local media upon Sunderland's arrival at Hong Kong

  • Head coach Paolo Di Canio and O'Shea meet the mascots at Hong Kong airport

  • Like these boys Di Canio had a close eye on the Barclays Asia Trophy

  • Local Sunderland fans were delighted after meeting their heroes

  • O'Shea signs more autographs as BAT fever takes hold

Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio has reiterated his desire to win the Barclays Asia Trophy and welcomed the opportunity to see how his side fares playing before a packed Hong Kong Stadium where Premier League opposition will present "a real test".

"The Barclays Asia Trophy is crucial because I can see my team play in real test, playing two of the best sides in England"
Paolo Di Canio

Speaking shortly after Sunderland touched down in Hong Kong to take part in the only Premier League-sanctioned competition outside of England, Di Canio revealed that he was looking forward to watching his side meet the challenge of competing for silverware against top quality opponents.

With the Black Cats, who host Fulham on the opening match of the Barclays Premier League season next month, set to meet Tottenham Hotspur in Wednesday's semi-final, with either Manchester City or South China to follow on Saturday, the Italian was in determined mood.

"It is obvious that we have come here to win the trophy because it is an important competition," said the 45-year-old. "Always there is a challenge but we will keep on going and work hard because we have to be ready by 17 August.

"The Barclays Asia Trophy is crucial because, firstly, I can see my team play in real test, playing the sides we will meet in the league, two of the best sides in England. Also for the new players it will be a good test to find what level of difficulty we will find during the league; they will play top footballers. That is a very important test for the players and for me to test them."

Di Canio ambition

Di Canio, who took over as head coach in March, has made eight summer signings as he seeks to create a side suited to his playing philosophy and admitted that he hopes to make "one or two more" in the close season should circumstances oblige. In the meantime he intends for his side to make an impact in East Asia and build on the platform of a successful tournament to establish Sunderland as a Barclays Premier League force with which to be reckoned.

"I can see the trophy there," he said eyeing the prize that will be presented on 27 July. "It is an interesting competition. There is big interest. Sky is here. I know the stadium is sold out. So it gives the players more pressure to play at a top level because they know they will be performing far away but to many people. We hope that Sunderland can get closer to Spurs."

"We hope to put on a good show for these fans who cannot come over to see the Premier League"
John O'Shea

Taking on Spurs on Wednesday was the challenge at the forefront of Sunderland captain for the tournament John O'Shea's mind, describing the semi-final against the side who narrowly beat them on the final day of the 2012/13 Barclays Premier League campaign as "a fantastic test". "We had a couple of good games against them last season," he said. "Especially the final match of the season where it was 0-0 until a certain Mr Bale intervened in the last couple of minutes.

"It will be a good test to see where we are fitness-wise but it will be good to get to see some fans out in Hong Kong. We hope to put on a good show for these fans who cannot come over to see the Premier League."

The Wearsiders were greeted by supporters asking for autographs and photographs, and the importance of the event to the locals was not lost on Di Canio, who enjoyed the experience of playing in the same Hong Kong Stadium as a player with AC Milan some 17 years ago.

'Amazing' welcome

"It was a good experience as a footballer and now I am very glad to be here as a manager," he said. "It's amazing. All round Asia they go mad for English football, so it is a good experience, also because in social life it is good to have a link to a faraway world, to get closer to the culture. Fans will go to the stadium and see their heroes. The local people here watch a lot of Premier League football and the chance to watch their heroes live is a big opportunity. Both for us to see the enthusiasm they can bring to the stadium."

O'Shea added: "We are building up some good relationships with everyone in Hong Kong. Every team in the Premier League realises the importance of the Asian market because it is so valuable."

"The local people here watch a lot of Premier League football and the chance to watch their heroes live is a big opportunity"
Paolo Di Canio

Among the local fans waiting to greet Sunderland at Hong Kong airport was Andrew, a supporter of the club for five years. "I am really excited to see them coming to Hong Kong," he said, proudly wearing Sunderland's new away kit. "It's not easy to get information about the club here in Hong Kong so I am looking forward to seeing them for real at Hong Kong Stadium against Spurs on Wednesday.

"What I like about Sunderland is that they may not be at the top of the league they always play entertaining football and they always try their best. I really appreciate the effort they make."

The local supporters are also clearly going to great lengths to follow their side, with Saturday's final already a sell-out. A limited number of tickets are still available for semi-finals day and can be bought here.

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