Preview: Continents Collide

Aston Villa won the Main tournament at the 2016 HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens. Photo by Li Man Yuen / Power Sport Images

Defending champions Aston Villa return to the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens looking to win the tournament for a record seventh time, but will face arguably their toughest test yet as the competition adds an even greater international flavour to its line-up.

Olympique Marseille, Bayer Leverkusen and Cagliari Calcio will become the first sides from France, Germany and Italy respectively to compete at the annual event, while 2016 English Premier League champions Leicester City and 2015 and 2016 HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens runners-up West Ham United ensure England again has a strong representation at Hong Kong Football Club.

Another two-time runner-up, Scotland’s Rangers, return after a two-year absence and New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix, who reached the semi-finals on their two previous visits, will again be looking to put on a strong showing. The tournament has also maintained its East Asian feel as Japan’s Kashima Antlers are back for a second successive year after impressing in 2016.

As ever, Hong Kong is strongly represented as 2011 winners Kitchee, HKFA U-23, HKFA Red Dragons and Yau Yee League Select are joined by hosts Hong Kong Football Club and HKFC Captain’s Select, while tournament regulars Singapore Cricket Club complete the exciting 16-team cast.

 Meet the teams

Aston Villa are by far the most successful side at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens having claimed the title a record six times. Five wins between 2002 and 2010 confirmed the Birmingham-based team as the tournament’s dominant force, before they ended a six-year barren spell in 2016 by seeing off West Ham United 2-0 in the final to reclaim the trophy.

Alongside Villa in Group C are debutants Bayer Leverkusen and the match between the pair promises to be one of the most hotly anticipated of the group stage as the Hong Kong Football Club welcomes its first German side. After reaching the final of the Plate competition last year, HKFA U-23 will prove tough opposition for the duo, while Singapore Cricket Club complete the four-team table.

Olympique Marseille are undoubtedly one of the star attractions at this year’s tournament, with the French giants becoming the country’s maiden representatives at Hong Kong Football Club. Another mouthwatering tie in the group stage from Group D pits Marseille against West Ham, who have suffered back-to-back final defeats to Atletico Madrid and Aston Villa and will be desperate to finally claim the top prize this time out.

Also in Group D, Kitchee have enjoyed previous success at Happy Valley having won the tournament in 2011 and will again be confident of springing a surprise, while Yau Yee League Select offer up the best from Hong Kong’s amateur league.

Leicester City produced one of the most memorable stories in footballing history last year when they defied logic to win the English Premier League title against all odds. The Foxes have also claimed silverware at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens after winning the title in 2012. Last time out, though, they exited in the quarter-finals at the hands of Wellington Phoenix, who they will again face in Group B, before going on to lift the Shield.

Kashima Antlers first appeared in the competition back in 2004 before returning in 2016 and reaching the last eight. Back for a third time, the J.League team will join Leicester, Wellington and hosts HKFC Captain’s Select in Group B.

The third and final debutant at Hong Kong Football Club is Serie A side Calgiari Calcio, who will be the first team from Italy to take part in the competition. Alongside the Italian outfit in Group A are Rangers, who reached the final in 2009 and 2010 only to lose out to city rivals Celtic and Aston Villa respectively.

Hosts HKFC Captain’s Select and HKFA Red Dragons complete the group ahead of what promises to be an action-packed three days.

English might

Clubs from England have long since dominated the roll of honour at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens, with Aston Villa’s victory last year making it 11 wins from 17 tournaments.

Villa in particular have gained a reputation for bringing with them a number of future first-teamers over the years and the six-times champions have built up a strong relationship with Hong Kong Football Club during that time. Relegation from the Premier League last year, however, means they become the first Championship team to compete at the tournament.

Leicester are another side to have performed strongly in recent times, having won the Cup in 2013, the Plate in 2014 and the Shield in 2012 and 2016, when they beat Eastern 3-2 in the final to ensure they have claimed a trophy in four out of five visits to Hong Kong.

Leicester City at the 2016 HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens.

And despite being unlucky runner-up in the past two seasons, West Ham have displayed enough talent on the pitch to ensure they will start another tournament as one of the favourites.

 Foreign flair

Perhaps the most exciting aspect in the build-up to the 2017 HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens was the announcement that sides from three of Europe’s strongest leagues were going to be turning out for the first time.

Back in 2015, Spain’s Atletico Madrid became the first La Liga team to appear at Hong Kong Football Club when they took the tournament by storm to claim the title after coming from two goals down to win 3-2 against West Ham after extra-time in the final.

Much will also be expected of the trio of Marseille, Leverkusen and Cagliari as they make their competition debuts in what is widely anticipated as being the most competitive tournament to date.