Wednesday, 10 June 2009

No Sleep Till Beijing

Another plane, another train
Another bottle in the brain
Another girl - another fight
Another drive all night

West Ham United will kick off their Asia Trophy adventure with an enticing clash against Tottenham. The draw sees the London rivals picked to face each other in the semi-final of this year's tournament, which takes place in Beijing between 29th-31st July. The other semi-final will feature local side Beijing Guoan and Hull City.

It has been confirmed the two semi finals will take place on Wednesday, 29th July with the West Ham v Tottenham game kicking off at 11am BST (6pm local time) and Hull v Beijing at 1.30pm BST (8:30pm local time). A third-place play-off for the two losing semi-finalists takes place at 11am BST (6pm local time) on Friday, 31st July with the final commencing at 1.30pm BST (8:30pm local time) that day. An estimated 49,000 tickets are being made available for each game, all of which will take place in Beijing's Worker's Stadium.

This year's tournament will form part of the 2009 Beijing Football International Festival, for which several events are being staged throughout the summer. The inaugural Asia Trophy was won by Chelsea in Malaysia back in 2003, whilst Bolton won in Thailand two years later. Portsmouth are the current holders of the trophy having beaten Liverpool on penalties in the 2007 final, held in Hong Kong. All of the 2009 tournament's four matches will be broadcast live by Sky Sports.

Elsewhere, a busy summer is fast taking shape for West Ham United with a month to go until the first fixture of the 2009/10 pre-season. According to the official site, Gianfranco Zola will take a strong squad to south Essex to take on Grays Athletic in the opening fixture on Sunday 12 July. Although he may be without some of his internationals due to the extra time being given for some to return to Chadwell Heath, it could be a welcome chance to see some of the manager's fit-again players in action while any new faces at the club may also figure for the first time.

It is the only match the first team are playing in England before a training camp, featuring games, in Austria followed by the high-profile trip to China. With the 2009/10 Barclays Premier League fixtures being confirmed next Wednesday morning, the final warm-up game will be the visit of Zola's former club SSC Napoli on Saturday 8 August.

West Ham United confirmed the club will be taking on the Italian side in the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season at the Boleyn Ground. The match, to be played for the Bobby Moore Cup, was finalised on Wednesday afternoon. It will be a fitting fixture ahead of Gianfranco Zola's first full campaign in charge. It was at Napoli where the manager's playing career took off in the late 1980s. That culminated in Zola playing a part in the Naples club winning only their second Serie A title when a certain Diego Maradona led the way to success in the 1989/90 campaign.

This will be the second visit by an Italian club in three years after Roma's visit in 2007. Coached by former Italy manager and one-time West Ham interviewee Roberto Donadoni, Napoli will provide a similarly strong test for Zola's side before the Barclays Premier League season begins a week later. In a hugely competitive Serie A, Napoli finished the 2008/09 season in 13th place but have already begun strengthening for next season.

Italy forward Fabio Quagliarella has just joined an attack that already boasts Argentina ace Ezequiel Lavezzi and the highly-regarded Slovakia playmaker Marek Hamsik. At the back, there are the likes of Fabiano Santacroce, who played under Zola in the Italy Under-21 set-up and has already figured in the Azzurri's senior squad. Hamsik and Santacroce, along with team-mate Daniele Mannini, are well-known to technical director Gianluca Nani as he spotted them for Brescia before their sales to Napoli.

The prestige pre-season opener at the Boleyn Ground has attracted a host of leading clubs in recent years including PSV Eindhoven (2-1, 2003), Anderlecht (4-4, Anderlecht win 5-4 on penalties, 2004), Osasuna (1-1, 2005), Olympiakos (1-1, 2006), AS Roma (2-1, 2007). Last season, Carlton Cole scored in a 1-1 draw against Villarreal - the first time the pre-season curtain-raiser was played as the Bobby Moore Cup. That match was also notable for being the last time the club legend's famed No6 was worn, with Matthew Upson handing over his shirt to Stephanie Moore at half-time before returning for the second half in the No15.

2009/10 pre-season fixtures

12 JUL - Grays Athletic v West Ham United

18 JUL - Cambridge United v West Ham United XI

24 JUL - Thurrock FC v West Ham United XI

29 JUL - West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur (Barclays Asia Trophy, Beijing)

31 JUL - Kingstonian v West Ham United XI

1 AUG - West Ham United v Hull City/Beijing Guoan (Barclays Asia Trophy, Beijing)

8 AUG - West Ham United v SSC Napoli

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