Hong Kong, 23 May 2014 – Chelsea and Sunderland are both wary of facing Hong Kong champions Kitchee at the HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens on Saturday afternoon, with the 2011 champions posing a big threat to the two English sides progressing to the Cup quarter-finals.
HKFC Captain’s Select, the second team from hosts Hong Kong Football Club, round out a tough Group B in the 16-team Main Tournament, which kicks off with Groups C and D on Saturday morning.
Chelsea U-21 coach Dermot Drummy said Hong Kong’s weather and the presence of Sunderland and Kitchee in their group stage could threaten their bid to win the Cup after previous attempts in 2000, when they reached the final, and two years ago, when his side lost to the Black Cats in the quarter-finals.
“It’s a tough start, but we’ll enjoy it. Every game we play is tough. The thing here is the physicality and the weather. I’ve seen it in these tournaments. It drains people very quickly, so the emphasis is on keeping the ball,” said Drummy, who also managed Chelsea two years ago.
“We know Kitchee will be quick and that if we give the ball away it’ll be hard to get it back, but we’re good at keeping the ball. The difference for our boys is to play in this weather and on this [astroturf] pitch, so they’ve got to acclimatise very quickly. We want the boys to problem solve on the pitch and hopefully they’ll do that.”
Chelsea will be captained by tall centre-back Alex Davey, one of several players from the club’s U21 Premier League-winning squad.
Striker Islam Feruz, midfielders Billy Clifford and Charlie Colkett, defenders Alex Davey, Adam Nditi and Fankaty Dabo, and towering goalkeeper Jamal Blackman were also involved in Chelsea’s U21 success, which was capped by a 2-1 playoff final win over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
“Jamal’s a big man and was superb for us at Old Trafford. He was a big-game player for us and I’m sure he’ll be called into service here,” said Drummy, who will start with Feruz up front.
“Islam Feruz has been our No. 9 all season. He’s a great link player and does a lot of work off the ball to get us linked up. When the ball goes into him, it normally sticks, so this will be something we do. Billy’s a very technically gifted player and gets us going forward.”
Kevin Ball is leading Sunderland at the Soccer Sevens for a third straight year, as the side look to build on reaching the semi-finals on their previous appearances in 2010, 2012 and 2013. However, Ball admits that getting through the group stage could prove a tricky task, with Kitchee fielding a full-strength side from the squad that won a third Hong Kong First Division title in four seasons.
“It could be tough to get out of the group stage, but we’ve got to give it a right go and try and do it. Chelsea have had a fantastic season with their U-21s and U-18s and full credit to them, while Kitchee are the champions here, so it’s a challenge for the lads,” said Ball, the former Sunderland captain.
“Ideally we want to win and get out of the group – no different to Chelsea and Kitchee – but what’s important for me is how the players go about the game. As long as they give a performance, I’ll be happy with that. If I don’t get a performance, then obviously that’s something for me to talk to the players about.”
Ball’s squad includes midfielders Liam Agnew and Martin Smith, who were both called up to Sunderland’s first-team squad at the end of the season, while goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has represented England from U-16 through U-19 level and has also been involved with Gus Poyet’s first team.
However, Ball singled out Chelsea, Manchester City and Aston among the pre-tournament favourites.
“Chelsea have done very well this year, Man City have got a very good crop of younger players and we know Villa have always had a good team,” Ball said.
“But when you come here, you come with a view of doing as well as you possibly can. You’re not going to travel thousands of miles for a jolly. You’re going to come to do as well as you can and I think we and the other teams are all going to do that.”
Ball also admitted there’s a feeling of unfinished business, after losing 1-0 to eventual champions Leicester City in last year’s semis.
“When we reached the semi-final last year we felt that was an opportunity for us to have possibly progressed a little bit, but congratulations to Leicester,” Ball said. “We would always say to the players, let’s go as far as we possibly can.”
Group B kicks off in the afternoon along with Group A, which features 2012 champions NHaewcastle United, Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande, HKFA U-23 and Hong Kong Football Club.
Groups C and D start on Saturday morning. Group C features Manchester City, Rangers, Hong Kong First Division side BC Rangers and Singapore Cricket Club. Group D comprises defending champions Leicester City, five-time winners Aston Villa, HKFA U-21 and Yau Yee League Select.
The tournament kicks off with the opening round of Masters group games on Friday evening (7.00-9.00pm). All the Main group matches and the remaining Masters group games are held on Saturday (9.00am-8.15pm), while the knockout rounds take place on Sunday (8.00am-7.30pm).
Tickets for the weekend are HK$160 per day or HK$300 for a two-day pass, and are available atwww.cityline.com. Citibank has title sponsored the event since 2011 and other sponsors this year include British Airways, Nike, Aegon, The Excelsior, Tsingtao and Boase Cohen & Collins.
Group A: Newcastle United (ENG), Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN), HKFA U-23 (HKG), Hong Kong Football Club (HKG)
Group B: Chelsea (ENG), Sunderland (ENG), Kitchee (HKG), HKFC Captain’s Select (HKG)
Group C: Manchester City (ENG), Rangers (SCO), BC Rangers (HKG), Singapore Cricket Club (SIN)
Group D: Leicester City (ENG), Aston Villa (ENG), HKFA U-21 (HKG), Yau Yee League Select (HKG)
Group A: Rangers Legends (SCO), Wallsend Boys Club (ENG), USRC (HKG), Kowloon Cricket Club (HKG)
Group B: Aegon Ajax All Stars (NED), Eastern Salon Original (HKG), HKFC Chairman’s Select (HKG), HKFC Veterans (HKG)
Group C: Citibank All Stars (ENG), Nottingham Forest Mobsters (ENG), KFC Tokyo (JPN), SCC Tigers (SIN)