A1GP World Cup of Motorsport drivers faced a different challenge this morning as the motorsport world met the world of football. Twelve drivers took on players from the Chengdu Blades as part of the build up to this weekends race.
The Chengdu Blades is a professional Football Club competing in the Chinese Super League (equivalent of the British Premier League) and owned by British club, Sheffield United FC.
A selection of its star players including Li Tie, a former Everton F.C player and Ma Ming Lu, the former captain of the National Chinese football team, took time out to take part in a football skills training session and friendly match against the A1GP drivers this morning at the Sichuan University in Chengdu.
After a brief introduction from Chengdu Blades Director, Tony Xu and A1GP CEO Asia Pacific, David Clare, the players began the warm up led by the Chengdu Blades coach Don ORiordan, a former Republic of Ireland youth player.
After working up a bit of a sweat, the A1GP drivers took on the professional players in a friendly game eventually losing on penalties after a 5-5 draw. Lebanons Daniel Morad opened the scoring with the first goal of the match for the A1GP drivers. Portugals Filipe Albuquerque put a second ball in the back of the net with Indias Armaan Ebrahim scoring the third A1GP goal of the first half. Chengdu Blades Director, Tony Xu, also took part scoring two goals for his team leaving the score 3-2 in A1GPs favour at half time.
The local heroes came back out fighting in the second half with Chengdu Blades goal-scorer Xu being ending up with a red card for arguing with the referee. Despite being a man-down the team scored another three goals, but with Albuquerque getting his second goal of the day and Frances Nicolas Prost also getting a goal the game ended 5-5. The drivers prepared for a penalty shoot-out with tensions running high as each team was keen to claim the victory. Double goal scorer Albuquerque stepped up for the first strike but his effort was saved by the Chengdu goal-keeper. Daniel Morads attempt was also saved but Prost and Swiss driver Alexandre Imperatori managed to beat the goal-keeper although this wasnt enough as the Chengdu Blades put away three goals to win the match.
Chinas Ho-Pin Tung commented: When we were going to the game everyone was saying they were bad at football and didnt want to play but in the end everyone played and was so eager to win! I think everyone showed their racing driver mentality out there, wanting to win whatever they do. It was a good experience to meet the Chengdu Blades and the first time Ive done any football training. It was interesting morning and great to meet some of their star local players.
Filipe Albuquerque showed his footballing skills scoring two goals and giving the team a pep talk at half time. It was a really fun event with the professionals as well as watching some of the drivers who had never played before. I scored two goals, the second was a bit strange because it came off my leg, but it was good fun and a bit of training for us all.
Felipe Guimares from A1 Team Brazil had a shot at goal narrowly going over the cross-bar with players from Indonesia and Malaysia also taking part in the game. USAs Marco Andretti had a good game despite having never played football before: I got thrown to the wolves with that one, he said. It was definitely interesting. I took it easy at first but it was good fun. It was a good way to get to know the drivers that I have met this weekend and breaking a sweat will help get rid of the jet lag! I like Chengdu though. Its my first time to China so Im enjoying myself and I hope we can take to the track and hit the ground running tomorrow.
Morad, who scored the opening goal said: It was good to get the weekend started with a bit of fun kicking a ball around. I miss playing football as I used to play at a pretty high level in Canada so it brings back good memories and Im happy about scoring the first goal! The Chengdu Blades were far better than us but it was good for them to give us a bit of a chance although we did make some good moves!
David Clare: Its good to be back in China. This is the fourth different venue we have been to and weve done more races here than anywhere else. I think its appropriate we are here in the Sichuan Province and I hope that we put on a good show for the people here. With A1GP being a world sport its great to be partnering with local teams like the Chengdu Blades. This creates a bond that we can develop over future season as and we help develop the motorsport in China.
Sheffield United Executive Director Mike Farnan said: This is an exciting tie-up for both Sheffield United and the Chengdu Blades with A1GP. Our partnership promotes the city of Chengdu, both sports and further highlights the work we are doing to support the earthquake appeal.
Earlier this year, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale struck Wenchuan County in the south-western Sichuan Province. The rescue and relief efforts have been on-going since the disaster struck and as part of the Earthquake appeal the Chengdu Blades also played against Chelsea FC in Macau in July and conducted a UK tour in early August.
A1GP has strong ties with China, having raced there five times in the last three seasons, but this will be a new challenge for the drivers. We are honoured to be involved in promoting what is the first ever major international motorsport event in the Sichuan Province which has attracted international and national media attention, added Mike. It further highlights our growing reputation in China where the Chengdu Blades are now recognised as a leading club in Chinese football.
The Chengdu Blades is part of Sheffield Uniteds family of international clubs which also includes Ferencvaros in Hungary and the Central Coast Mariners in Australia, and have enjoyed a successful return season in the top division.
A1GP heads to the Chengdu International Circuit in Sichuan province in the south west of China for round two of the 2008/09 season this weekend, 7-9 November.