Packed with star power

Over 100,000 football fans will flock to the National Stadium this weekend, as a star-studded Singapore leg of the International Champions Cup (ICC) kicks off.

Manchester United, arguably the most popular club in the world, take on Inter Milan in the pre-season exhibition tournament on Saturday, before Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur clash a day later. The United game is sold out while tickets for the Spurs game are selling fast. The Red Devils last played in Singapore in 2001, while the Lilywhites last graced Kallang in 1995.

And unlike last year’s edition, which saw Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain arrive in town without many of their key players following their World Cup exertions, this year’s ICC is packed with star power.

Inter, with new coach Antonio Conte at the helm and Croatian star Ivan Perisic in tow, were the first team to arrive for the tournament when they landed yesterday morning, with the other teams scheduled to arrive in the coming days.

Undoubtedly the biggest name set to strut his stuff is five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, who headlines a Juventus squad also boasting the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini.

The 34-year-old Portuguese superstar had made a brief stop in Singapore just weeks ago at the invitation of his good friend, billionaire Peter Lim, and made a surprise visit to students of two neighbourhood schools in Tampines.

He will return to the Lion City with his teammates on Saturday.

One of football’s hottest young prospects, Matthijs de Ligt, could also make his debut for the Old Lady in the Republic. The 19-year-old underwent a medical check-up in Turin yesterday and is set to be unveiled shortly.

He had been the subject of an intense battle among Europe’s leading clubs after impressing for a resurgent Ajax, whom he led to the Champions League semi-finals, and the Netherlands last season.

OTHER EVENTS

TODAY 

8am: Tottenham arrive. 

7.15pm: Manchester United touch down. 

TOMORROW

2pm: Inter Milan official meet and greet at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).

SATURDAY 

9am: Juventus arrive.

11am: Juventus’ official meet and greet at RWS. 

2pm: Spurs’ official meet and greet at RWS. 

SUNDAY 

2pm: United meet and greet with Maybank customers at Suntec City, North Atrium. 

2pm: United official meet and greet at RWS.

Ronaldo’s former team United are scheduled to arrive from Perth today with almost a full squad, including the likes of Spain goalkeeper David de Gea and France midfield star Paul Pogba.

Champions League runners-up Spurs, led by England skipper Harry Kane and featuring South Korean ace Son Heung-min, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura, will also arrive today.

Yesterday morning, Inter were greeted by a band of about 20 fans who had discovered the squad’s base at the JW Marriott, and patiently staked out the lobby for their heroes for over two hours.

The die-hards were armed with club memorabilia and pens, and while the players appeared to be tired from their flight from Switzerland, some like Belgian international Radja Nainggolan stopped to take wefies and sign several autographs.

One Inter fan, who has supported the Nerazzurri since the 1990s but declined to be named, is looking forward to seeing the likes of Nainggolan, Perisic and Samir Handanovic in action at the National Stadium. He said: “We’d rather go to San Siro to watch a Champions League or Serie A game but this is still a good opportunity because we get to see Inter play.”

Manchester United fan Dinie Afiq, who has supported the club since 1993, said he is thrilled at the prospect of watching £89.3 million ($150 million) Red Devils man Pogba play.

But the 31-year-old civil servant quipped: “The teams look strong on paper, although their burning desire to perform might be matched by our tropical heat.”

Pogba and Co. will be among those making public appearances at club sponsor and official supporters club events throughout the week, where fans are expected to show up in force for a chance of a glimpse of their idols.

ICC venue the Singapore Sports Hub has also arranged activities on the sidelines of the matches, such as football challenges, penalty shoot-outs, virtual reality and e-sport gaming experiences from tomorrow to Sunday at the OCBC Square.

Because of enhanced entry screening measures, the hub has also urged fans to arrive at least one hour before kick-off and to take public transport to the venue as heavy traffic is expected.

• Additional reporting by Kimberly Kwek

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