Football: Absence of World Cup stars a likely factor behind smaller crowd for ICC opener compared to 2017

Empty seats are visible as Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah (left) takes on Atletico Madrid's Aitor Punal at the National Stadium.
Empty seats are visible as Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah (left) takes on Atletico Madrid's Aitor Punal at the National Stadium. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - It was billed as a mouth-watering rematch of last season's Europa League semi-final but, instead, Thursday's (July 26) clash between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid struggled to pull in the paying public.

A crowd of 23,095 showed up at the National Stadium for the first match of this year's International Champions Cup (ICC) Singapore leg. It was the lowest attendance since the Republic started hosting the tournament last year.

Last year's corresponding opening fixture between Chelsea and Bayern Munich, held on a Tuesday night, drew 48,522 spectators.

The other ICC games here, Bayern-Inter Milan and Inter-Chelsea, had turnouts of 23,388 and 32,547 respectively. The poor attendance was likely because of the high-profile absentees, noted fans.

Full-time national serviceman Amanpreet Singh, 22, had assumed the National Stadium would be full and had applied for leave so he could be punctual for kick-off.

The Arsenal fan said: "It is disappointing to see so many empty seats. I had personally expected more because of the calibre of the teams here. Arsenal, in particular, have brought a very strong team. The lack of star names could have been a turn-off for the fans."

Atletico did not bring their French World Cup winners Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Lucas Hernandez and other big names like Spain's Diego Costa and Koke and Uruguay's Diego Godin.

The third team here, Paris Saint-Germain, omitted Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, two of football's brightest talents from their squad.


Administrative executive Jerome Setho, 28, felt matches could be played over the weekend instead.

"I think it is quite embarrassing if there are so many empty seats but then again for a pre-season game, you don't expect much anyway," he said. "

Perhaps the organisers could spread the matches over Friday, Saturday and Sunday."

Despite the presence of many Gunners fans dressed in their team's colours, the atmosphere was also somewhat muted.

The loudest cheers of the night came not from any action on the field, but when Arsenal's Mesut Ozil image appeared on the screens at the stadium. The German was not fielded.

Amanpreet was still pleased with the quality on display.

He said: "Both sides tried to play an attractive style and didn't take the game lightly which made for good viewing."