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The traditional curtain-raiser of Italian football will be hosted in the Chinese capital for a second time, and Goal.com weighs up why it may be a wise decision in the long run

ANALYSIS
By Livio Caferoglu

In Europe, upon the start of every new season beckons a match between the domestic league and cup winners of the previous season in what promises, theoretically, an extremely competitive match-up between arguably the country's most powerful outfits. Unfortunately, encounters offering gripping entertainment have been few and far between in recent years, begging the age-old question: what is the genuine worth and prestige of a Super Cup victory?

In the case of Italy's version, falling attendances, as well as a general depreciation of the competition, has required the FIGC to implement an overhaul of the trophy's conception, taking inspiration from a previous experiment. With three previous editions having taken place abroad - in Washington in 1993 as a precursor to World Cup 1994, Tripoli in 2003 and New Jersey in 2004 - the decision to host the competition in Beijing is arguably the first time that the switch has been globally recognised and could potentially open up a niche for Serie A to exploit.

The deal with the Chinese authorities to hold at least three Supercoppe in four years has forced the FIGC's hand though, compromising plans to play today's match at San Siro, where a sell-out crowd would have been guaranteed.

SUPERCOPPA VENUES OF THE PAST
Year
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Teams
Laz-Int
Rom-Fio
Juv-Par
Juv-Mil
Mil-Laz
Juv-Int
Int-Rom
Int-Rom
Int-Rom
Int-Laz
Int-Rom
Venue
Rome
Rome
Tripoli
New York
Milan
Turin
Milan
Milan
Milan
Beijing
Milan
Crowd
65,000
71,050
40,000
54,128
33,274
35,246
45,528
34,898
43,400
68,961
65,860
It could be regarded that the 2009 experiment was an instant success for Italian football, as they immediately gained an increase in over 20,000 in attendance figures from the 2008 clash at San Siro. However, Lazio, one of the finalists, possess a minute fan base in the Asian region, and despite filling up around 68,000 seats of mainly Inter supporters, there was still a considerable amount of untapped potential, beginning with a startling increase in sponsorship deals for the fixture.

This time around, a capacity crowd of 90,000 is expected as a direct result of this being a Milan derby. China is experiencing a boom in its level of football followers, and fans from all over the country travelling to Beijing are feeling part of the fanfare. Although it may not guarantee a new fan-base immediately, it is could well add a newfound appreciation of Serie A in China, especially if the Supercoppa provides enough entertainment.

The Chinese market could provide a funding opportunity which Serie A needs to retain its place among the upper echelons of European football. In addition, it may prove to be a win-win scenario as the Beijing National Stadium is in desperate need of a top-level sports event, having become a white elephant since the 2008 Olympics.

China and Italy have a unique relationship, which has been prevalent since before their Supercoppa agreement in 2009, as the Derby della Madonnina is a special fixture that has broadcast for over 20 years on national television channel CCTV. The traditional 'big three' in Italy had dominated football coverage in the previous two decades, during their respective golden eras, which contributed to the broadcasting of domestic footballing matters. As a result, despite the English Premier League beginning to monopolise support, alongside La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, Serie A retains a place in Chinese hearts.

The Supercoppa could even become the pioneer for more official fixtures being hosted in China and surrounding areas. After the maligned 39th-game proposal by the English Premier League in 2008, Italy's decision to host a less significant, yet still competitive, spectacle is something that could be considered at a later date if the Premier League decide to revisit their previous plans of hosting a league match abroad, with the Community Shield potentially open to being relocated.

The very idea of it means that today's match takes on huge significance. If, after the event, the FIGC view the game as having been a financial and/or logistical failure, then any hope of the Far East becoming a home from home for games of any magnitude will be gone.

But that conclusion seems a very unlikely one as fans are set to head in their droves to Beijing later today, justifying the FIGC's decision to relocate, while also lending weight to the possibility of China having a more active role in European football in the years to come. So while many in Milan will tell you that their derby should be played in their city, Italian football might prove today that it can still be a trendsetter in 21st century football.

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