Hong Kong; May 20, 2014: Defending champions Leicester City have included 2013 Player of the Tournament Harry Panayiotou in their 10-man squad for this week’s HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens, which kicks off at Hong Kong Football Club on Friday.
Aston Villa are also bringing a former Player of the Tournament, 21-year-old Daniel Johnson, who received the award after the Jamaica-born midfielder led the five-time champions to the final in 2012.
Jack Grealish is also in a strong Villa squad and is set for his third straight Soccer Sevens, just weeks after the Republic of Ireland U-21 winger made his first-team debut against Manchester City in this month’s Premier League run-in. Villa are pooled with Leicester in Group D, along with HKFA U-21 and Yee League Select.
Leicester – whose first team won the Championship last month to earn promotion to the 2014/15 Premier League – upset 2012 champions Newcastle United 2-0 to win last year’s Cup final in only their second Soccer Sevens appearance.
Jon Rudkin, the club’s Academy Director, has retained Panayiotou and four other players from last year’s winning team – midfielders Jak McCourt and Michael Cain, centre-back Alie Sesay and goalkeeper Adam Smith – and says his charges are geared up for their title defence.
“Winning the Cup was a terrific achievement for us. It’s something that the players have consistently spoken about through the season and they’ve been looking forward to coming back and trying to defend that title again,” Rudkin said.
“As well as last year’s players, there are a few other additions who have been playing for us this season and they’re all looking forward to it. Hopefully when they fly back they’ll have many great memories to take back this time as well.”
Rudkin was also in charge when Leicester capped their tournament debut two years ago by beating Chelsea in the Shield final, while this year the Foxes are bidding to become the first team to successfully defend the Cup since Aston Villa in 2008.
However, Rudkin believes the seven-a-side format makes the tournament unpredictable, reflected by the fact that Leicester were the fifth different side to win the Cup in the past five years.
“We find the tournament so exciting. It’s great to watch. For the players, there are so many one-against-one scenarios around the pitch that make it really interesting,” Rudkin said.
“You look at the quality of the teams that are there, but the format means that anyone is capable of going on and winning. I think every club is going to be strong and I think it really bodes for an exciting tournament.”
Rudkin said the annual Hong Kong showpiece offered young British players the chance to compete in different climates and also benefit by watching experienced pros compete in the over-35 Masters Tournament.
“Hong Kong’s an amazing place and the weather’s so different to England, so to have that experience of playing in that type of heat is great for the players,” Rudkin said.
“Also, to have the Masters take to the field and seeing some of the fine players that have had amazing careers, it’s great for our young players to watch them and see how they still go about the game and the fashion that they play.”
Newcastle United, Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande, HKFA U-23 and Hong Kong Football Club are in Group A, while English sides Chelsea and Sunderland are pooled with Hong Kong champions Kitchee and HKFC Captain’s Select in Group B.
Manchester City, the newly crowned Premier League champions, are top seeds in Group C and will face Scottish giants Rangers, Hong Kong First Division side BC Rangers and Singapore Cricket Club.
The tournament will start 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) before the knockout rounds take place on Sunday (8.00am-7.30pm).
Entry is free on the Friday evening, while tickets for the weekend are HK$160 per day or HK$300 for a two-day pass, and are available at www.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)