Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Ed Francis believes the English Premier League side can become HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens champions at the first time of asking as they prepare to make their debut at Hong Kong Football Club.
The Midlands club are one of three newcomers to the annual seven-a-side tournament alongside fellow English team Fulham and Portugal’s Portimonense, and they have been drawn in Group D with 2018 runners-up Rangers, hosts Hong Kong Football Club and HKFA Red Dragons.
Wolves arrive on a high after many of the players in Hong Kong were part of the side that lifted the Premier League 2 title in England this season, while their senior side produced a superb first season back in the top flight, finishing seventh in the Premier League and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
“We’re definitely confident we can win it, we had a good end to the season by winning the Premier League 2 so we’re on a real high from that and have lots of confidence going into this,” said Francis.
“I’m very excited to be here and so are the rest of the lads; it’s a new culture, with beautiful buildings and it’s a great place, somewhere not many of us have been to and maybe wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this.
“It’s definitely very warm and the first seven minutes will be tough, but once we get used to it, I think we’ll be alright. We’re all fit lads and ready to go.”
Portimonense will become the first side from Portugal to take to the field at Happy Valley as they prepare to face fellow newcomers Fulham, HKFC Captain’s Select and two-time runners-up West Ham United in Group A.
“It will be tough to play in this weather but we come from Portugal where it’s hot too – in England it’s not so hot, so for us it’s not so bad.
“We feel proud; it’s a good thing to be the first Portuguese team, so we will be doing our best to represent our club and our country.”
Defending champions Newcastle United, meanwhile, have been drawn in Group C alongside Brighton & Hove Albion, Asian champions Kashima Antlers from Japan and Hong Kong’s Kerry Yau Yee League Select.
Newcastle are aiming to become only the second team to be crowned HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens Main Cup champions three times having also lifted the trophy in 2012, with Aston Villa out in front on six titles.
“Last year was a great experience and hopefully we can do it again,” said Matt Longstaff, whose brother Sean played for Newcastle’s senior side in the Premier League this season having previously featured at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens.
“We have a younger squad with us and a few of the players that did well last year are not here with us. We still have a strong enough team to do well, although we’re not putting any pressure on ourselves. But we’ve got to be confident we can defend the title.”
In the Masters tournament, defending champions TDW Discovery Bay are in Group A alongside two-time champions Citi All Stars, Nottingham Forest Mobsters, HKFC Chairman’s Select and Singapore Cricket Club Masters.
Group B, meanwhile, features playonpro, English side Wallsend Boys Club and Hong Kong trio Eleven FC, HKFC Masters and KCC Veterans.
“This is the fifth or sixth time I’ve been here, and it’s always a nice email to receive when you’re asked to come back,” said Citi All Stars goalkeeper Alan Fettis.
“It was disappointing last year, but Discovery Bay beat us in the semi-finals and they were the outstanding team. I’ve still got that competitive spirit, we all have, so we all want to succeed and win the tournament.”