Last year’s HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens runner-up West Ham United have arrived in Hong Kong determined to make up for their 2015 final defeat this weekend, according to defender Alex Pike.
West Ham led Atletico Madrid 2-0 in the 2015 final before eventually losing 3-2 after extra-time as the Spanish side claimed the title on their debut appearance.
But West Ham touched down in Hong Kong on Wednesday on the back of their senior side’s impressive domestic season in the English Premier League and boasting a number of players who were part of the team that recently won the U-21 Premier League Cup.
“We’ve come here to win the competition and we should expect nothing less,” said Pike, whose side will line up in Group D alongside recently crowned Premier League champions Leicester City, Hong Kong Football Association U-21s and tournament regulars Singapore Cricket Club when the Main Tournament starts on Saturday.
“I played last year and it was a really good tournament; it’s different to what we’re used to back in England, but it gives us a different experience of football.
“Some of the players are new, while some I’ve played with for quite a few years. There’s a few different age groups, but we all know each other pretty well and fingers crossed we’ll win it.”
One of the most hotly anticipated ties of the group stage will see West Ham take on 2013 HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens champions Leicester, who will be looking to emulate the success of their senior side and pick up another title in what has been a remarkable season.
“Any team that we play out here is going to be difficult, so I think we’ve just got to take every game as it comes and hopefully go out and win it,” said Leicester’s England U-18 international defender Elliott Moore.
Aston Villa and Newcastle United, meanwhile, arrive in Hong Kong on the back of relegation from the Premier League and will face off against each other in Group A with a squad of players hoping to break into their respective first teams and help fire them back to England’s top flight.
Aston Villa are the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens’ most decorated side having won the tournament a record five times, but their last tournament victory came back in 2010 when they defeated Scotland’s Glasgow Rangers 3-2 in the final.
“We’ve got a young team but we’ve got very good technical players so our chances will be good,” said Aston Villa’s Swedish midfielder Khalid Abdo, whose team have also been paired with hosts Hong Kong Football Club and Kitchee.
“Rushian Hepburn-Murphy has already made a few appearances in the Premier League and is a very good player, while Callum O’Hare is a small, talented player who’s good in tight areas.”
Newcastle won the tournament on their debut in 2012 and have never failed to make it to at least the semi-finals in the three ensuing years.
“The last two years we got to the semi-finals so we’re hoping this time we can get to the final,” said Newcastle winger Daniel Barlaser, who represents Turkey at youth level.
“I was here two years ago for the first time and I came back last year too. Seven-a-side is really different from 11-a-side and one of the most important things is to keep possession because it’s really hard to play in this weather. The Premier League sides are the big guns, but I think we’ve got a really good chance.”
Also in Group A are hosts Hong Kong Football Club, who produced a tournament-best performance in 2015 by defeating Leicester in a penalty shootout to lift the Plate.
“Newcastle, Aston Villa and Kitchee have all won the competition before so it’s a tough group, but our aim is to win the competition,” said HKFC’s Gary Gheczy.
Stoke City complete the line-up of English representatives and will be looking to make up for a disappointing tournament debut in 2015 when they were eliminated from the Main Tournament in the group stage.
“We can definitely do better than last year, and I think we’ve got a squad capable of winning it,” said defender Lewis Banks, whose team will line up in Group B alongside newly crowned Hong Kong champions Eastern, Yau Yee League Select and New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix.
Wellington also made their inaugural appearance last year when they advanced to the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners Atletico 1-0 after extra-time.
“We’ve got a good young team with some good players so coming off last year I think we can build on that; I think we’ve got the potential to win it,” said Wellington’s Justin Gulley.
The final group in this year’s HKFC Citi Soccer sees Japan’s Kashima Antlers, FC Seoul of South Korea, Thai Youth Football Home and HKFC Captain’s Select line up in Group C.