Finnish superstar Jari Litmanen will use the Soccer Sevens this weekend to showcase his skills and – just as importantly – his fitness.
The European football great, now 42, played his last competitive match at the end of 2011 as he helped HJK to a league and cup double in his native country.
“My last official game was one and a half years ago and, after that, I had a knee operation and couldn’t play in 2012,” he revealed. “So I’m not finished yet. I haven’t officially retired and I still haven’t decided what to do. I’m fit and looking forward to the Soccer Sevens.”
Litmanen will appear for the powerful Aegon Ajax All Stars in the Soccer Sevens. The evergreen striker is one of five new faces in the Ajax squad as they defend the Masters Cup they won in such style last year with a 6-1 victory over Hong Kong side Top Class.
The newcomers also include Aron Winter, who played 84 times for Holland and appeared for Lazio and Internazionale in Italy, and fellow midfielder Kiki Musampa, who had spells with Málaga and Atlético Madrid in Spain and English giants Manchester City.
Among those returning for Ajax is former Denmark striker Kenneth Pérez – scorer of four goals in last year’s final and named Masters Player of the Tournament.
Litmanen is looking forward to playing in Hong Kong for the first time after weather cut short his last appearance in the territory. “I was here with Ajax 15 years ago when we supposed to play a match,” he recalled. “It was beautiful weather for four or five days, but then on the last day there was a huge storm, so we couldn’t play.
“The ironic thing was, I was due to fly out immediately after the game, before the rest of the team, as I was needed in Finland to play for the national team. But in the end, the match was cancelled. So now I will finally get to play in Hong Kong – hopefully!”
Litmanen could be forgiven for thinking history was repeating itself when the Aegon Ajax All Stars landed in Hong Kong on Wednesday immediately a rainstorm had battered the city. But glorious sunshine greeted the players when they held their first training session at HKFC on Thursday.
Rated Finland’s greatest ever player, Litmanen is still enjoying his football after a glittering 25-year career in which he earned 137 caps for his country, won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 and played for European giants Barcelona and Liverpool.
Other big names in the Masters competition include former England trio Teddy Sheringham, Peter Beardsley and Darren Anderton, who are playing for local side CLA Discovery Bay, and the Rangers All Stars with former Dutch internationals Arthur Numan and Michael Mols and ex-Germany star Jörg Albertz.
Manchester United legend Joe Jordan reckons the club have got it absolutely right in choosing David Moyes as Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement.
Jordan – guest speaker at tonight’s Soccer Sevens Sportsman’s Dinner – has known Moyes for many years and believes his fellow Scot has all the qualities to be a success.
“I played alongside David at Bristol City when I was coming to the end of my career and he was starting out on his,” said Jordan. “He’s a dedicated guy. When he was a footballer he had principles and he’s been the same way as a manager, from when he started at Preston and throughout the long time he’s been at Everton.
“He’s got a big task ahead of him and all you can ask is that they try to maintain the dynasty. As a kid, United were the team I supported along with Celtic, so I’m a bit biased, but it’s a huge club and David Moyes is the right man for the job.”
Jordan has spent more than 40 years at the elite level of football as player, coach and manager. So, with all his experience, he was not surprised to see Ferguson step down after 26 years of success at United. “I wouldn’t say it was a shock, not when you analyse it,” he said. “I think losing the title to Manchester City in the last minute of the season last year really grated and he set out to put that right.
“United always go out to win the game, home or away, and this season they’ve proved it. They’ve won the league by a huge margin and I think, with that achieved, Sir Alex decided it was the right time to step aside. United have certainly picked a good man to replace him.”
Fans are being urged to buy their Soccer Sevens tickets in advance to avoid the disappointment of not being able to gain entry.
Strong ticket sales point to the tournament being close to capacity, especially on Sunday when the knockout matches are played.
“The level of interest in the tournament has never been higher,” confirmed Soccer Sevens chairman Tony Bratsanos. “The debut by Manchester City, the return of Newcastle United as defending champions, the first appearance for many years of local giants South China and our strongest ever Masters competition are all contributing factors.
“We are advising fans to buy their tickets in advance to ensure they can see the tournament. The Hong Kong Football Club stadium has around 2,800 seats plus a limited amount of standing room and the indications already are that we will be close to full.
“While we have always allowed fans to pay on the day and we understand there is a walk-up culture among football supporters, we are urging them to purchase in advance to avoid disappointment.”
All spectators are allowed into the Soccer Sevens for free on Friday, while all children under the age of 16 are admitted free of charge throughout the tournament. Tickets for Saturday and Sunday cost $160 per day or $300 for a weekend pass.
Tickets can be purchased online at Ticketflap or in person at Hong Kong Football Club, 3 Sports Road, Happy Valley, or Laxton Events, 1604-5 The Broadway, 54-62 Lockhart Road, Wanchai. The ticketing enquiries hotline is 3579 8088.
Hot and humid conditions greeted the 640 players competing in the HKFC Citibank Junior Soccer Sevens last weekend, but the action was just as sizzling. Players aged nine to 13, representing 16 clubs from across Hong Kong, delivered 20 hours of breathless football from 08:00 to 18:00 each day at Hong Kong Football Club.
Teams finishing third and fourth in each qualifying pool still had something to play for in Bowl or Shield competitions and by Sunday night the following winners were celebrating:
-- U10 Shield: HKFC1
-- U10 Bowl: Kitchee
-- U11 Shield: Asia Pacific Soccer Schools 1
-- U11 Bowl: Chelsea Soccer Schools
-- U12 Shield: KCC
-- U12 Bowl: HKFC 2
-- U13 Shield: Asia Pacific Soccer Schools
-- U13 Bowl: Tai Tam Tigers
The top two teams in each group qualified for Cup quarter-final places with the big incentive being the opportunity to play in Cup or Plate finals in front of a packed HKFC stadium at this weekend’s Soccer Sevens. And the knockout stages set up some enticing final encounters with several new clubs winning their place on the big stage as well as some old foes facing off:
SATURDAY, 25 MAY
15:40 to 16:40
-- U10 Plate final: Chelsea Soccer Schools v HK Football Academy
-- U11 Plate final: HK Football Academy v ESF Lions
-- U12 Plate final: HK Dragons v Chelsea Soccer Schools
-- U13 Plate final: Kitchee v Brasil Top Skills
SUNDAY, 26 MAY
12:40 to 13:10
-- U10 Cup final: Tai Tam Tigers v Asia Pacific Soccer Schools
-- U11 Cup final: Kitchee v Tai Tam Tigers
17:00 to 17:30
-- U12 Cup final: HKFC v HK Football Academy
-- U13 Cup final: HK Football Academy v Chelsea Soccer Schools
“It was a long and hot weekend but it was fantastic to see the Club pitch hosting such great junior soccer action,” said Chris Plowman, chairman of HKFC Junior Soccer and Junior Soccer Sevens tournament director.
“All the players played their part in making it our best tournament yet, not least the girls teams from HKFC and HK Football Academy who both put in gritty performances against some tough opposition. Of course, it’s not all over by any means, with eight finals to come this weekend during the Soccer Sevens, along with the Crusaders and U14 girls exhibition matches. I can’t wait!”
Four Hong Kong First Division clubs will go in search of Soccer Sevens glory this week as the tournament welcomes the strongest contingent of local professional teams in its history.
The four – league champions South China plus BC Rangers, Citizen and Southern – will be joined by a Hong Kong Football Association age-group representative team, the Dragons.
The tournament offers the five teams a golden chance to compete against top young players from overseas, with youth and academy sides from Manchester City, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Leicester City and Scottish giants Rangers taking part.
“The HKFA is committed to supporting the Soccer Sevens as a high-profile tournament that not only provides a wonderful weekend of entertainment for fans but also gives local players the chance to test themselves against elite overseas opposition,” said HKFA CEO Mark Sutcliffe.
“In this regard, it is fantastic to see some of the most famous clubs in England and Scotland coming to compete and I am especially pleased that we have five official teams – four First Division clubs plus the HKFA Dragons – entered in the Main draw.”
Southern were the final First Division club to confirm their participation yesterday and they will go into Group B of the Main draw where their opponents will include defending champions Newcastle.
The Soccer Sevens has been won by just two Hong Kong teams since it was first held in 1999. Instant-Dict defeated Chelsea in 2000 while Kitchee beat Celtic two years ago.
The build-up to the Soccer Sevens kicks off this weekend with the staging of the HKFC Citibank Junior Soccer Sevens.
A total of 64 teams from 16 clubs around Hong Kong will compete across four age groups – U10, U11, U12 and U13 – from 8:00am to 6:00pm on Saturday and Sunday (18-19 May) at Hong Kong Football Club.
The Cup and Plate finals for all age groups will then be played the following weekend in front of a packed crowd at the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens.
“The HKFC Citibank Junior Soccer Sevens is a unique event in that it brings together clubs from all over Hong Kong and from different leagues, so many of these teams rarely play each other,” says tournament organiser and chairman of HKFC Junior Soccer Chris Plowman.
“We have staged the Junior Soccer Sevens for the past three years and it has proved to be a huge success, certainly one of the big events in the Hong Kong junior soccer calendar.”
This year sees local First Division club Kitchee field their young stars against sides from a variety of soccer schools, including Hong Kong Football Academy, Asia Pacific Soccer Schools, HK Dragons from Discovery Bay, Chelsea Soccer Schools, ESF Lions, Sai Kung Sharks and Brasil Top Skills.
Two international schools are also represented in the form of Canadian International School and Tai Tam Tigers from Hong Kong International School.
Hosts HKFC will welcome their friends and rivals from Kowloon Cricket Club, while a strong Japanese contingent will come from ACC Japan, Junior J Leaguers and Dragon Shooters.
For the first time the event will involve a side from mainland China with Shenzhen United sending a team across the border. Another first will be the involvement of three all-girls teams, highlighting the growing interest in ladies’ football in Hong Kong. These all-girls teams will have special dispensation to field players one year older and there will be teams from hosts HKFC and Hong Kong Football Academy in the U12 and U13 competitions.
“With all teams now confirmed and the draw made there is much excitement amongst the competing sides as to who might make the big finals,” says Plowman. “Ed Fordham from Hong Kong Football Academy has already predicted his club will win three of the four!”
Teams will play in four pools of four with the top two sides going through to the Cup and Plate competitions, the bottom two to the Bowl and Shield competitions. The Cup finalists will be the winners of the semi-finals with the losers going into the Plate final, and likewise for the Bowl and Shield.
There will also be a curtain raiser to the adult Soccer Sevens in the form of two junior soccer tournaments on the afternoon of Friday 24 May for the U8 and U9 age groups. Then, the following day, the HKFC Crusaders special needs players will feature in an exhibition match – something that always proves to be a real crowd pleaser – plus, for the first time, there will be an exhibition match between HKFC U14 Girls and Hong Kong Football Academy U14 Girls.
“It’s such a great opportunity for our young players to have the chance of playing in front of a packed stadium at the Soccer Sevens and competing alongside teams from the English Premier League and around the world. I really hope that it’s a showcase of all that is good about junior soccer in Hong Kong,” says Plowman. “There’s sure to be some great football and very exciting matches.”
Aston Villa will head to the Soccer Sevens with their young players hoping to follow in the footsteps of stars like Gabriel Agbonlahor, Marc Albrighton and Andreas Weimann.
Villa have not only won the tournament a record five times, they also have an incredible success rate when it comes to youngsters graduating to the first team. No less than 13 players who have appeared in the Soccer Sevens have gone on to represent the club at senior level.
Villa academy director Bryan Jones is one of the tournament’s biggest admirers and he is relishing the chance to blood more youngsters in Hong Kong.
“Yet again we are looking forward to returning to the Soccer Sevens,” he said. “We are extremely pleased that the Hong Kong Football Club keeps inviting us back.
“We were disappointed last year to be beaten in the final by Newcastle. The squad this year will be very, very young with most of our 18 and 19-year-olds involved in international football, which unfortunately we can't do anything about.
“But it will be great experience for these younger lads and it will stand them in good stead if we continue to be invited back in the future.”
Apart from Agbonlahor, Albrighton and Weimann, the other players who have made the leap from Soccer Sevens to first team are Liam Ridgewell, Nathan Delfouneso, Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark, Jonathan Hogg, Chris Herd, Eric Lichaj, Steven Davis, Craig Gardner and Stephen Cooke.
From last year’s Soccer Sevens squad, Player of the Tournament Danny Johnson and Jack Grealish have featured on the substitutes’ bench in the Premier League this season.
Villa’s last victory in the Soccer Sevens came in 2010 when they beat Rangers 3-2 in a classic final. In 2011 they were knocked out of the Cup quarter-finals on penalties by Celtic and last year they lost a thrilling final 2-1 to Newcastle.
Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds, with victories in 2005 and 2006, are the only other team to have won the Soccer Sevens more than once.
The strength of Villa’s youth development programme was underlined early last month when they beat Chelsea 2-0 in the final of the prestigious NextGen Series – Europe’s top U19 club competition – at Lake Como in Italy.
Scores of lucky youngsters will get the football lesson of their lives when they attend coaching clinics with some of the Soccer Sevens greats ahead of the tournament.
The Citibank All Stars – comprising former English Premier League regulars – will conduct simultaneous clinics on behalf of Citibank and Toys “R” Us at Hong Kong Football Club from 4:30pm to 6:00pm on Thursday, 23 May.
Appearing in the Soccer Sevens for the Citibank All Stars will be former Sunderland and England fullback Michael Gray, Wimbledon’s Marcus Gayle, Portuguese international Luís Boa Morte, Chelsea old boy Frank Sinclair and former Blackburn Rovers striker Matt Jansen.
Then it will be the turn of the Aegon Ajax All Stars to conduct a clinic on behalf of their team sponsor. This will take place on Friday, 24 May between 4:30pm and 6:00pm, also at HKFC.
The Aegon Ajax All Stars, defending champions in the Masters Cup, have named a powerful squad that includes a pair of high-profile newcomers – Finnish legend and Champions League winner Jari Litmanen and 84-cap Dutch ace Aron Winter.
Members of the media and general public are welcome to watch the clinics and may gain access to HKFC via the public entrance next to the Jockey Club’s Hong Kong Racing Museum in Wong Nai Chung Road.
Manchester United legend Teddy Sheringham has confirmed he will return to the Soccer Sevens, adding another stellar name to what is already the strongest Masters competition in the tournament’s history.
Sheringham will once again play for Hong Kong side CLA Discovery Bay and will be joined in their line-up by ex-Liverpool and Newcastle United ace Peter Beardsley and former Tottenham Hotspur winger Darren Anderton – thus reuniting members of England’s forward line from their visit to Hong Kong in 1996.
CLA Discovery Bay will be guided from the sidelines by current New Zealand national team coach Ricki Herbert – the only undefeated manager at the last World Cup.
Defending champions Aegon Ajax All Stars will have Finnish superstar Jari Litmanen and 84-cap Dutch ace Aron Winter in their powerful squad while the Rangers All Stars have recruited three internationals – Dutch duo Arthur Numan and Michael Mols and German Jörg Albertz.
The Citibank All Stars, meanwhile, will feature a full squad of ex-English Premier League regulars including Michael Gray, Marcus Gayle and Luís Boa Morte.
“Teddy Sheringham really enjoyed playing for us at last year’s Soccer Sevens and was always keen to come back, so it is fantastic news for the team and the tournament that he has confirmed he is returning,” said CLA Discovery Bay organiser Neil Jensen.
“He is especially looking forward to teaming up again with his old England colleagues Peter Beardsley and Darren Anderton and it promises to be a great moment for Hong Kong fans to see these three in action together.
“And we are delighted that Ricki Herbert is flying in from New Zealand to oversee the team. This will be the first time ever that a team in the Soccer Sevens has been managed by a current national coach.”
Striker Sheringham will be forever associated with Manchester United’s 1999 Treble. After helping United secure the English Premier League title, he scored in the FA Cup final against Newcastle and then, four days later, netted the equaliser and laid on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s winner in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
In total, he captured three Premier League titles with United and in the 2000-01 season he won both of the English game’s Footballer of the Year awards. He was capped 51 times by England and also had two successful spells at Tottenham Hotspur.
Teammate Beardsley, meanwhile, will be a busy man during his Hong Kong visit. As well as playing for CLA Discovery Bay, he will be seeking to raise funds for Newcastle’s famous Wallsend Boys Club, which has produced a string of top flight footballers down the years.
In addition, as Newcastle’s football development manager, he will be watching with interest as the club’s young players, once again guided by reserve team coach Willie Donachie, defend their title in the Main competition.
CLA Discovery Bay will also feature former Tottenham midfielder David Howells and ex-Leeds United striker Ian Baird plus two icons of Hong Kong soccer, Dejan Antonić and Tim Bredbury.
The Rangers All Stars plan on making up for lost time as they seek to regain the Masters Cup they last won five years ago.
While a host of former Ibrox favourites turned out for the Citibank All Stars last year, this year marks the first official appearance by the Rangers All Stars in the Soccer Sevens since 2008, when they lifted the Masters Cup with a 3-0 victory over the Mel Hood All Stars.
This year’s squad includes five players from that successful side – Andy Goram, Scott Nisbet, Derek Ferguson, Alex Rae and Mark Walters, who was named Masters Player of the Tournament. They are joined by three notable international newcomers in the shape of Dutch duo Arthur Numan and Michael Mols and German Jörg Albertz.
“We love coming to the Soccer Sevens and we’re looking forward to the Rangers All Stars making their first official appearance in five years,” said goalkeeper Goram. “We always have a great time on and off the pitch in Hong Kong and we enjoy meeting the fans and mixing with old friends.
“But, while it is a thoroughly relaxed and entertaining event, make no mistake, we will be coming to Hong Kong to win. Lifting the Masters Cup in 2008 made the trip that much more memorable and we aim to be seriously competitive.”
Goram was one of those who watched in admiration last year as the Aegon Ajax All Stars won the Masters Cup with a brilliant 6-1 victory over Hong Kong side Top Class FC. The Dutch team are back this year with some impressive additions to their squad, including striker Jari Litmanen and midfielder Aron Winter.
“It would be fair to say the Aegon Ajax All Stars set a high standard in winning the Masters last year,” acknowledged Goram. “It promises to be a tough competition with them involved again together with the likes of Citibank All Stars, Top Class FC and Nottingham Forest Mobsters. We plan to be in the mix on the final day.”
The Rangers All Stars have been drawn with the Aegon Ajax All Stars in Masters Group C and their showdown at 14:23 on Saturday, 25 May promises to be a highlight of the day. United Services Recreation Club and Kowloon Cricket Club Veterans are the other two teams in the group.
Hong Kong giants South China have been confirmed for the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens after winning the First Division title.
The Hong Kong Football Association has pledged that four top flight teams, including the league champions – together with the HKFA Dragons, an age-group representative team – will take part in the tournament.
The first of those four can now be pencilled in as South China were crowned the new kings of local soccer last week. Second-placed Kitchee, winners of the First Division for the past two seasons, could only draw 1-1 with Sun Pegasus – leaving the Caroliners four points clear with one match to play.
Confirmation of South China’s inclusion in the Soccer Sevens adds up to a busy summer for the territory’s most famous club. They will also contest the English Premier League-sanctioned Asia Trophy in July.
“As the league champions, South China are happy to accept the invitation from Hong Kong Football Club and the HKFA to take part in the Soccer Sevens,” said South China convener Steven Lo. “It will provide a good chance for our players to gain experience in the seven-a-side tournament against some of the best young players in England and Scotland.
“Besides preparing for the Asia Trophy this coming July, we are also excited to take on the Soccer Sevens challenge. South China will be doing their best to lift the Soccer Sevens trophy.”
South China, who will be making only their second appearance in the Soccer Sevens since the event started in 1999, are the second seeds in Group C of the Main competition and will face Scottish giants Rangers, the top seeds, plus the HKFA Dragons and Hong Kong Football Club.
They will be seeking to become just the third local team to win the Soccer Sevens after Instant-Dict in 2000 and Kitchee two years ago.
Their Asia Trophy outing, meanwhile, will see them host Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland at Hong Kong Stadium from 24-27 July.
Scotland legend Joe Jordan will be the guest speaker at the Sportsman’s Dinner, the traditional eve-of-tournament gathering before the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens.
Jordan will be joined on stage by current English Premier League referee Phil Dowd while many other celebrities will be in the audience for what is always an entertaining evening of anecdotes and opinions. The dinner will be attended, as usual, by the teams taking part in the tournament.
“We are delighted to have a speaker of Joe Jordan’s reputation appearing at the Sportsman’s Dinner,” said Soccer Sevens chairman Tony Bratsanos. “We’ve had some wonderful speakers down the years, including Alan Ball, Lawrie Sanchez and Ronnie Whelan, and we’re looking forward to hearing what Joe has to say about the game past and present.
“Joe has spent 40 years at the elite level of football as a player, coach and manager and we’re sure he has some great stories to tell and plenty of thought-provoking comment.”
Jordan enjoyed a fine club career as a striker with Leeds United, Manchester United and AC Milan and, on the international stage, he remains the only British player to score in three successive World Cup finals tournaments, which he achieved from 1974-82.
After retiring from playing, he managed Bristol City and Stoke City in England and Hearts in Scotland. For much of the past nine years he has worked as a first-team coach for manager Harry Redknapp, first at Portsmouth, where they won the FA Cup together in 2008, then Tottenham Hotspur, and now at Queens Park Rangers.
The Sportsman’s Dinner will be held at 7:30pm on Thursday, 23 May in the Sports Hall at Hong Kong Football Club. Tickets cost $800 per person or $8,000 for a table of 12 and these can be bought from Laxton Events, 1604-05 The Broadway, 54-62 Lockhart Road, Wanchai. For further information, contact James Beacher at Laxton Events by email (email@example.com) or telephone (+852 2866 3110).
Finnish superstar Jari Litmanen has been added to the Aegon Ajax All Stars team looking to mount a successful defence of their Masters title at the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens.
Litmanen, who played 137 times for his country, won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 and played for European giants Barcelona and Liverpool, is one of five new faces in the squad.
The newcomers also include Aron Winter, who played 84 times for Holland and appeared for Lazio and Internazionale in Italy, and fellow midfielder Kiki Musampa, who had spells with Málaga and Atlético Madrid in Spain and English giants Manchester City.
The two other Soccer Sevens debutants will be striker Gerald Sibon, who played for Holland at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and appeared in 129 matches for English side Sheffield Wednesday, and defender Michel Kreek, a UEFA Cup winner with Ajax in 1992.
The Aegon Ajax All Stars won last year’s Masters competition in style, defeating Hong Kong side Top Class FC 6-1 in the Cup final with a breathtaking display on a rain-soaked pitch.
“As a team, we thoroughly enjoyed the Soccer Sevens last year,” said Dick Schoenaker, coach of the Aegon Ajax All Stars and a World Cup finalist in 1978.
“The players had a great time both on and off the pitch and we were thrilled to be able to show Hong Kong fans the style of football for which Ajax are famous.
“We are looking forward to coming back to defend the Masters Cup and are relishing the chance to once again take on some of our old friends and opponents from Europe’s top leagues and the local sides.”
Litmanen, an attacking midfielder or second striker, is widely considered Finland’s greatest ever footballer. His international career lasted from 1989 to 2010, giving him the unique distinction of playing for his country in four different decades.
He scored 91 goals in 159 games for Ajax and was in the team that defeated AC Milan to win the Champions League in 1995. He then scored in the 1996 Champions League final against Juventus which Ajax eventually lost on penalties.
Among those returning to the Soccer Sevens for the Aegon Ajax All Stars are former Denmark striker Kenneth Pérez – scorer of four goals in last year’s final and later named as Masters Player of the Tournament – and ex-Nottingham Forest forward Bryan Roy, who won 32 caps for the Netherlands.
Ajax have been drawn in Group C of the Masters competition and will come up against a Rangers All Stars squad that includes former Dutch internationals Arthur Numan and Michael Mols and ex-Germany star Jörg Albertz.
Premier League champions Manchester City will find Sunderland barring the way when they make their debut in next month’s HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens.
City, one of four top seeds in the Main section of the tournament, were put on a collision course with their English rivals in Group A when the draw was held at Hong Kong Football Club.
Soccer Sevens champions Newcastle United will face Championship side Leicester City in Group B while Scottish giants Rangers will need to overcome Hong Kong’s soon-to-be-decided First Division champions, most likely South China, in Group C.
Aston Villa, five-time winners of the Soccer Sevens, will be favourites to top Group D but will need to overcome two other Hong Kong First Division clubs along the way.
“It promises to be another thrilling tournament,” said Soccer Sevens chairman Tony Bratsanos. “The top four seeds – City, Newcastle, Rangers and Villa – are all renowned for their excellent academies and they will be sending outstanding young footballers to compete here.
“While City would look to have the toughest draw, given that Sunderland reached the semi-finals here last year, we know the Hong Kong First Division clubs will be competitive. We’ve seen a few shocks at the Soccer Sevens before, including Hong Kong’s Kitchee beating Celtic to win the tournament two years ago, so we expect all four groups to be closely contested.”
The Hong Kong Football Association has demonstrated its support for the tournament by confirming that four First Division teams, plus an age-group representative team, the HKFA Dragons, will take part. The First Division teams were named as HKFA 1-4 for the purposes of the draw with the numbers corresponding to their final league positions when the season finishes in the coming weeks.
In the Masters competition, the draw brought a mouth-watering Group C clash between defending champions Aegon Ajax All Stars – who will have 84-cap former Holland ace Aron Winter in their ranks – and the Rangers All Stars.
OFFICIAL 2013 DRAW RESULTS
Group A: Manchester City | Sunderland | Singapore Cricket Club | Yau Yee League Select
Group B: Newcastle United | Leicester City | Southern | HKFC Captain's Select
Group C: Rangers | South China | HKFA Dragons | Hong Kong Football Club
Group D: Aston Villa | BC Rangers | Citizen | Kowloon Cricket Club
Group A: Eastern Salon Top Class | CLA Discovery Bay | HKFC Chairman's Select | KFC Tokyo
Group B: Citibank All Stars | Nottingham Forest Mobsters | HKFC Veterans | SCC Tigers
Group C: Aegon Ajax All Stars | Rangers All Stars | United Services RC | KCC Veterans
Title sponsors Citibank are committed to helping low-income families as part of their support for the Soccer Sevens.
“This is our third consecutive year sponsoring the Soccer Sevens and I am very happy to bring this important sports event to Hong Kong’s soccer-loving public again,” said Weber Lo, Citi Country Officer and Chief Executive Officer, Hong Kong and Macau.
“We want to support the notion of the Hong Kong Government to promote and revitalise soccer; help bring an affordable international soccer tournament to the wider Hong Kong community; and promote soccer, health and sportsmanship to Hong Kong society.
“During the tournament, we will host a range of hospitality and special promotions for our clients and spectators attending the event, and bring in our partner Toys “R” Us to host a kids’ funfair during the event so that both parents and children can enjoy the fun and excitement together.
“We are committed to making a positive contribution to the community in which we serve, and uphold a philosophy of bringing the best, and only the best, to the Hong Kong people.”
As part of its commitment to giving back to the community, Citi will organise a charity lunch for 20 underprivileged families on the last day of the Soccer Sevens, so that these families can also have the opportunity to enjoy the excitement of the tournament.
The families, primarily participants under the Hope Development Accounts (HDA) programme, are from Tin Shui Wai and Yuen Long and will be invited through Citi’s non-profit partner, Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (TWGHs).
HDA, jointly run by Citi and TWGHs, aims to alleviate the poverty of low-income families through helping them build assets by a matched savings programme, vocational and financial management training and mentorship over a two-year period.
The countdown to the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens will begin in earnest on Wednesday afternoon (17 April) when the tournament draw is staged in the Sportsman’s Bar at Hong Kong Football Club at 2:00pm.
Soccer Sevens debutants Manchester City are among the four top seeds for the Main competition together with defending champions Newcastle United, five-time winners Aston Villa and Scottish giants Rangers, semi-finalists last year and runners-up in both 2009 and 2010.
Weber Lo, Citi Country Officer and Chief Executive Officer, Hong Kong and Macau, and HKFC president Dermot Agnew will conduct the Main draw.
The top three seeds in the Masters competition will be the defending champions, Aegon Ajax All Stars, last year’s runners-up and 2011 winners Eastern Salon Top Class FC, and the Citibank All Stars, the team comprising former English Premier League professionals.
Soccer Sevens chairman Tony Bratsanos and Hong Kong Football Association CEO Mark Sutcliffe will draw the teams for the Masters competition.
Also among the VIPs at the draw will be HKFA treasurer and board member Ken Ng, while Hong Kong football giants South China will be represented by head coach Liu Chun Fai and deputy team manager Jackal Hui.
England great Peter Beardsley will be among a host of former international stars gracing the Masters competition at next month’s HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens.
The former Newcastle United and Liverpool striker – winner of 59 England caps and a veteran of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups – will play for Hong Kong side Discovery Bay.
Beardsley won two league titles with Liverpool, in 1988 and 1990, and was in the team that lifted the FA Cup in 1989.
Other newcomers to the Masters competition will be Dutch internationals Arthur Numan and Michael Mols, together with ex-Germany midfielder Jörg Albertz, who will all appear for the Rangers All Stars.
Left-back Numan and striker Mols were both members of the Rangers team that did the treble of Scottish Premier League, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup in 2003.
Aegon Ajax All Stars will be defending the Masters Cup they won in spectacular fashion last year, with ex-Denmark international Kenneth Pérez, the Masters Player of the Tournament, confirmed to return. Ajax defeated Hong Kong side Top Class FC 6-1 in last year’s final with Pérez netting four times.
Ex-English Premier League regulars Marcus Gayle and Luís Boa Morte will appear in a strong Citibank All Stars team that will also include former England duo Michael Gray and Des Walker, Chelsea old boy Frank Sinclair and former Blackburn Rovers striker Matt Jansen.
Global financial corporation Citi will be reaching out to their customers and the wider public when, for the third year running, they sponsor the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens.
“We are extremely happy to be the title sponsor for the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens again this year,” said Weber Lo, Citi Country Officer and Chief Executive Officer, Hong Kong and Macau.
“Soccer has always been one of the most popular sports in Hong Kong for all walks of life. We hope that through this sponsorship, we can attract world-famous teams and up-and-coming players for all soccer fans in Hong Kong and further promote this sport within the community.
“Citi will host different hospitality programmes and promotions during the tournament in celebration of our 111th anniversary in Hong Kong.”
Citi stepped in at the last minute as title sponsor of the 2011 Soccer Sevens and then, before the 2012 event, confirmed a new three-year deal.
English Premier League champions Manchester City will make their debut in the Soccer Sevens next month.
The Eastlands giants will be joined in the Main competition by Newcastle United, who return to defend the Soccer Sevens title they won on their first appearance last year, and newly crowned European U19 champions Aston Villa.
English clubs Sunderland and Leicester City and Scottish giants Rangers will also be appearing in Hong Kong again after featuring last year.
The Masters competition, meanwhile, will feature a host of former international stars including Peter Beardsley, Arthur Numan, Michael Mols, Marcus Gayle and Luís Boa Morte.
English Premier League champions Manchester City will make their debut in the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens next month.
The Eastlands giants will be joined in a formidable Main competition by Newcastle United, who return to defend the Soccer Sevens title they won on their first appearance last year, and newly crowned European U19 champions Aston Villa.
“Manchester City are very much looking forward to participating in this year’s Soccer Sevens,” said the club’s Academy chief, Mark Allen. “We have heard so many good things about the quality and organisation of the competition that it was an easy decision to accept the invitation.
“We are constantly looking for experiences that will enhance our players’ experience both on and off the pitch and the cultural awareness and appreciation provide excellent learning for them. We know it will be a difficult competition with the teams participating and we are looking forward to it.”
Backed by the wealth of their Abu Dhabi owners, City have emerged from the shadow of their illustrious neighbours Manchester United in recent years.
They landed the FA Cup in 2011 and claimed the Premier League title amid unforgettable drama on the final day of last season when Sergio Agüero’s last-gasp winner against Queens Park Rangers saw them pip United on goal difference.
City have a proud history of developing their own talent, even before setting up their Manchester City Academy in 1998. Since then, more than 30 young players have emerged from the Academy to play first-team football for the club, including Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland, Daniel Sturridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Newcastle, meanwhile, made a hugely impressive Soccer Sevens debut last year, winning all six of their matches, culminating in a thrilling 2-1 victory over Villa in the Cup final.
Despite their final loss last year, Villa remain the undisputed Soccer Sevens kings with five titles since the tournament was first held in 1999, with their last success coming in 2010.
Villa will head to Hong Kong on a high after beating Chelsea 2-0 in the final of the prestigious NextGen Series – Europe’s top U19 club competition – at Lake Como in Italy last week.
English clubs Sunderland and Leicester City and Scottish giants Rangers will also be appearing in Hong Kong again after featuring last year.
Newcastle United youth coach Willie Donachie is looking forward to bringing his team back to Hong Kong to defend their HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens title.
The Magpies made a hugely impressive tournament debut last year, winning all six of their matches, culminating in a thrilling 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in the Cup final.
“It's a fantastic tournament and I would love to play in it!” said Donachie. “It's so well organised, there's a big pitch where you can run around and enjoy yourselves and Hong Kong is also a great place to see. It's a brilliant experience to play against some overseas teams as well.
“I don't know which players we'll take yet but it'll be as good a squad as possible. Last year we thought we would struggle and we ended up winning it so, as long as we've got a few strong players and a few enthusiastic young ones, it'll be a great experience again whatever happens."
Two players from Newcastle’s victorious 2012 squad, captain James Tavernier and striker Adam Campbell, have gone on to make their Premier League debuts this season while Paul Dummett has also made his senior debut for Newcastle.
Jak Alnwick has been on the bench in the top flight while Bradden Inman is currently on loan with Crewe Alexandra and last week helped them to victory over Southend United in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley.
The Magpies will face a tough battle to retain their Soccer Sevens crown against the likes of Manchester City, who will be making their debut, and five-time tournament winners Villa.
In last year’s final, Campbell and Inman put the Magpies in control before a Dummett own goal gave Villa hope, but Newcastle held on for a memorable triumph.