Premier League pacesetters Leicester City will face last year’s runners-up West Ham United at the HKFC Soccer Sevens in May after the English clubs were paired together in Group D alongside HKFA U-21 and Singapore Cricket Club following Tuesday’s draw.
Leicester won the HKFC Soccer Sevens at the second time of asking when they defeated defending champions Newcastle United 2-0 in the 2013 final after winning the Shield competition on their inaugural appearance a year earlier. The current Premier League leaders were also Plate champions in 2014 before suffering a penalty shootout defeat in the Plate final to hosts Hong Kong Football Club last year.
West Ham, meanwhile, are also HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens regulars, and enjoyed their best-ever performance at the tournament in 2015 when they finished as runners-up to Spain’s Atletico Madrid.
“It’s a fantastic draw to see HKFA U-21 pitted against the possible champions of the Premier League and a team that may well end up in the Champions League, so that’s a highlight,” said the Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong Football Association Mark Sutcliffe. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity for players from Hong Kong to test themselves; we’re trying to develop football here and the only way to do that is to play against better players. I’m really looking forward to the weekend; it’s always an excellent tournament with some fantastic players of the past, present and future.”
A trio of former champions, meanwhile, will compete in Group A, where five-time winners Aston Villa will take on 2012 champions Newcastle United and local side Kitchee, who won the 2011 title.
Aston Villa are the tournament’s most decorated team having claimed the title in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010, and have also been represented over the years by players including forward Gabby Agbonlahor, England and Chelsea centre-back Gary Cahill, Leicester midfielder Marc Albrighton and Jack Grealish, who was the competition’s top scorer in 2013 and 2014.
The group is completed by hosts Hong Kong Football Club, who enjoyed their best-ever performance at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens last year when they won the Plate for the first time after edging out Leicester on penalties following a goalless draw.
An intriguing Group C sees Japan’s Kashima Antlers as well as debutants FC Seoul of South Korea, who replace Atlético de Madrid after the Spaniards late withdrawal, and Thai Youth Football Home face HKFC Captain’s Select
Kashima, who have won the Japanese title a record seven times, are participating in the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens for the first time since 2004 and will also be the first Japanese side to compete at the event since 2008.
FC Seoul will be Korea’s first ever representative at the tournament, while Thai Youth Football Home are to make a special appearance as they mark 10 years since the passing of their founder and former member of Hong Kong Football Club Henrik Lorenz.
Finally in Group B, Stoke City and New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix will face a yet to be named side from the Hong Kong Premier League as well as Yau Yee League Select.
Wellington enjoyed an impressive first appearance at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens in 2015 after losing 1-0 after extra-time to Atletico in the semi-finals, while Stoke lost 2-0 to HKFC Captain’s Select in the Plate quarter-finals last year.
“We’re delighted with the line-up we’ve put together and we’re looking forward to another all-action, exciting tournament,” said HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens Tournament Director Chris Plowman.
“We’ve got clubs from as far apart as Newcastle in the north of England to Wellington in New Zealand taking part. I’m also particularly pleased to have two major soccer leagues in Asia represented in the J.League and the K-League Classic, with FC Seoul doing particularly well at the moment. And what a success story with Leicester; we’re all wondering if we’ll be welcoming the Premier League champions.”
The draw for the Masters Tournament also took place on Tuesday, with two-time champions Ajax All Stars returning to join 2015 winners USRC, HKFC Chairman’s Select, KCC Veterans and Discovery Bay in Group A.
And Group B sees 2015 finalists Wallsend Boys Club face Citi All Stars, HKFC Veterans, SCC Tigers and Yau Yee League Veterans.
“I’m really excited to come back again,” said Wallsend Boys Club’s former Sunderland, Leeds United and Newcastle United striker Michael Bridges, who scored in last year’s 2-1 final defeat by USRC. “Our team is made up of some ex-professionals and amateurs, so it’s really good that we’re flying the flag for the club. After getting to the semis two years ago and the final last year, obviously the next step is to go on and win the trophy. The tournament is a great place to see some of the up-and-coming talent and meet ex-pros. It’s so well organised and such a good event.”
Date: 20-22 May, 2016
Venue: HK Football Club
Tickets: $300 (Weekend pass), $160 (Day ticket), Free (Friday night) from Cityline
29 May (Fri): 6 – 9pm; exhibition youth matches start at 4.45pm
30 May (Sat): 9am – 7.40pm
31 May (Sun): 9am – 6pm