Aston Villa forced to dig deep to progress to quarter-finals

Defending HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens champions Aston Villa survived a scare to advance to a quarter-final against Italian newcomers Cagliari Calcio after topping Group C at Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday.

After defeating Singapore Cricket Club 1-0 in their tournament opener, Villa drew 2-2 with local side HKFA U-23 as the group went down to the wire.

A loss to Bayer Leverkusen would have seen the six-time champions exit the Main Tournament, but Jordan Cox and captain Harry McKirdy scored to secure a 2-0 victory to condemn the German debutants to the Plate as HKFA U-23s advanced alongside the defending champions and into a last eight meeting with Scotland’s Glasgow Rangers.

“Leverkusen are a strong team, but we were outstanding, we dominated and made a statement,” said 2016 top scorer McKirdy, who’s appearing in his fourth HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens.

“We showed a togetherness in the end. We’ve been confident since we came out and we showed we are a strong team.”

Rangers enjoyed a fine return to the competition after a two-year hiatus after winning their first two games in Group A to book their place in the quarter-finals with a game to spare.

But the Scottish visitors were unable to complete a 100% record as Cagliari posted a 1-0 win to edge above HKFA Red Dragons into second place and a spot in the last eight.

“It was obviously good to top the group although it was a disappointing result at the end,” said Rangers captain Max Ashmore. “We’re in the quarter-finals so it will be good to get the experience.

“We’re confident. I think you can see from the first two games what we can do and we’re definitely more than good enough to win the tournament.”

A similar scenario played out in Group D as West Ham United, runners-up in the previous two editions, started the tournament with a win and a draw to seal their place in the knockout stage.

But the Hammers lost out on top spot as French debutants Olympique Marseille followed up successive draws with an impressive 3-0 victory over the London side to finish top of the standings.

The win earned Marseille a quarter-final meeting with HKFC Captain’s Select, with West Ham handed a meeting with Leicester City.

Former winners Leicester were in dominant form after winning Group B with a perfect record, with hosts HKFC Captain’s Select joining the English side in the last eight after victory over Wellington Phoenix and a draw with Kashima Antlers.

In the Masters competition, Jamie Cureton scored five goals in two games as holders Citi All Stars progressed to the semi-finals as Group A winners following back-to-back victories on Saturday, with HKFC Masters finishing as runners-up.

Wallsend Boys Club topped Group B after picking up two wins from two on Saturday afternoon and, in turn, eliminating the star-studded playonPROS as Hong Kong’s Yau Yee League Masters claimed second place.

Citi All Stars continue their title defence against Yau Yee League Masters, with Wallsend taking on HKFC Masters for a place in the final.

PlayonPROS will, however, return on Sunday to play fellow third-place side Discovery Bay in the Masters Plate final.