PSG missing lead names as China welcomes French season opener
With Paris Saint-Germain at the forefront, French football steps up its attempt to win over the lucrative Asian market as the Ligue 1 title-holders meet Guingamp in the season-opening Champions Trophy in Beijing on Saturday.
For the sixth year running, the traditional curtain-raiser to the French season between the champions and cup holders is being played outside Europe.
And after three visits to Africa, including last year's game in Gabon when PSG beat Bordeaux 2-1, and two trips to North America, French football's authorities are now stepping up their efforts to gain notoriety in Asia.
"It is an exceptional opportunity for France and we want to become known in Asia and China," says Frederic Thiriez, the president of the French league (LFP), who is hoping the presence of PSG in Saturday's game will maximise local interest at Beijing's Workers' Stadium.
"Ligue 1's international profile has made a considerable leap forward thanks to the development of PSG and Monaco.
"It is among the most watched leagues, behind the English Premier League but at a reasonable level.
"This game will be watched by at least 50 million people in China and will also be shown in 70 countries worldwide."
International television rights for Ligue 1 increased from 32.5 million euros ($43.5m, £25.8m) per year to an annual 80 million euros for the period 2018 to 2024 after a contract was signed with Qatar-owned channel beIN Sports earlier this year.
However, that is still a long way away from the money generated by Europe's other major championships for similar deals.
- World Cup stars absent -
PSG, last season's league and League Cup double winners who claim to have 120 million fans in Asia, and 25 million in China alone, have been on tour on the continent and beat local side Kitchee 6-2 in a friendly in Hong Kong on Tuesday, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring a hat-trick.
"A good match, a great training session against good opponents. It was what we needed before the Champions Trophy," was how Ibrahimovic summed up the game before PSG arrived in the Chinese capital, where only around 50 people turned out to welcome them at their hotel.
For the match, Paris coach Laurent Blanc will be without those players who were involved in the latter stages of the World Cup.
France midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye have just returned to training in Paris, while none of Brazilian trio Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Maxwell or Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi will be involved.
However, Ivorian full-back Serge Aurier, signed on loan from Toulouse, is available, as is Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani.
The 27-year-old only returned to training with his team-mates on Monday after a post-World Cup break and has already had to play down speculation that he will leave PSG this summer amid interest from elsewhere.
"I am staying, why would I not? I am very happy in Paris and I have a contract with PSG to respect," said Cavani, who is unlikely to start against Guingamp.
Of Guingamp, from a town with a population of less than 10,000 souls in Brittany, little is known in China.
But the modest club are looking to build on an outstanding last season which saw them win the French Cup and survive in their first Ligue 1 campaign in nine years.
Coach Jocelyn Gourvennec has kept together the majority of his squad since then and added several new faces, including three Danish recruits and the midfielder Sylvain Marveaux, signed on loan from Newcastle United, as they prepare to compete in the Europa League.
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