English duo Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham will make their debuts at this year’s HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens, adding to the challenge faced by defending champions Newcastle United as May’s seven-a-side tournament at Hong Kong Football Club celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Six-time champions Aston Villa, two-time winners Leicester City, last year’s runners-up Rangers from Scotland as well as West Ham United and Brighton & Hove Albion will also lead the British challenge between 17-19 May.
“We love the idea of something fresh and having new teams come out. We can take our club for granted, but when I see the players walk through the entrance for the first time, they just can’t believe it,” said HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens Organising Committee Chairman Tony Bratsanos.
“This time we decided we’d go for Fulham as they’re a good footballing team with an excellent academy. Also Wolves, they’ve done well in the Premier League and they actually contacted us, we didn’t contact them, so that was great to invite them.”
Wolves, one of the founding members of the Football League in England in 1888, are owned by Chinese investment group Fosun International and returned to the English Premier League this season under manager Nuno Espírito Santo.
“We are delighted to be attending the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens for the first time in the club’s history and we are looking forward to competing at such a prestigious competition in its 20th anniversary year,” said Wolves under-23 coach Rob Edwards.
“The opportunity to take our young players to Hong Kong to compete against a very good standard of opposition in such a unique format of the game is something we are eagerly anticipating and a fantastic way to bring the curtain down on a successful season at Wolves.”
Fulham, who famously reached the inaugural Europa League Final in 2010, also returned to the top-flight in England this season after beating Villa in the Championship play-off final.
“We are really pleased to have been invited to the 2019 HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens for the first time. We know that the competition has a terrific reputation and we are looking forward to the challenge,” said Fulham academy director Huw Jennings.
Newcastle beat Rangers 1-0 in last year’s final thanks to Callum Roberts’ extra-time winner as the side from the North East of England claimed the title for a second time, having first lifted the Cup trophy in 2012.
Last year’s defeat represented a third runner-up finish for Rangers at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens, having previously narrowly missed out on the title in both 2009 and 2010.
“We are delighted to be travelling back to the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens again. Visiting Hong Kong is a key highlight of the year on our academy calendar and the young players get so much from the event both from a football perspective, but also culturally by visiting one of the world’s must-see locations,” said Rangers head of academy Craig Mulholland.
“Two years ago, we reached the semi-final, last year we lost to Newcastle in the final so this year we hope to go one step further.”
Brighton made their HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens debut last year, beating defending champions Leicester to top their group with an unbeaten record only to see their run ended in the Cup quarter-finals by Italy’s Cagliari Calcio.
“We are delighted to be attending the tournament and feel we benefited greatly from the experience last year. We are sure this year will once again offer a different type of challenge and overall great experience,” said a Brighton spokesperson.
Villa are the most successful club in the history of the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens having won the tournament a record six times and been in the final on a further two occasions, and return this year for their 17th appearance at Hong Kong Football Club.
“This tournament remains an integral part of our development process as over the years many of our young players who have gone on to become Premier League winners, international players and first team squad members have benefitted from the Hong Kong Soccer Sevens experience,” said Villa academy manager Sean Kimberley.
Last year, Leicester made it all the way to the Cup semi-finals in defence of their 2017 title only to lose 4-3 after extra-time to eventual champions Newcastle.
“Leicester City have had some wonderful experiences at HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens over the years and last summer was no different. It’s a fantastically well-run competition with a format that both challenges the players and brings added excitement for the fans, who have always turned out to show their support,” said Ben Petty, who took charge of the Leicester team last year.
“We’re proud to have won the Main tournament on two previous occasions and I know that this year the team are be motivated to make that three. It’s a brilliant test for them as the competition gets tougher every year, but it’s one that we’re all looking forward to.”
Further information regarding the line-ups for the 16-team Main tournament and 10-team Masters tournament will be announced at a later date, as well as ticket information.
The draw for the 2019 HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens will take place on Wednesday 17 April, 2019.