May 22, 2015: Michael Bridges believes USRC – BTS and their core of current and former Brazilian pros will set “the standard” in the Masters Tournament at next week’s HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens, which kicks off on Friday evening.
Bridges, 36, and England legend Peter Beardsley will represent Wallsend Boys Club for a second year in the over-35 event, while former Newcastle United stalwart Robbie Elliot is among the squad’s new additions.
Wallsend and USRC (United Services Recreation Club), last year’s runners-up, are the top two seeds in Group A. The Citibank All Stars, organised by England’s PFA and again captained by Frank Sinclair, and Nottingham Forest Mobsters, with Des Walker in defence, are Group B’s seeded sides.
However, Bridges believes USRC could start as favourites after the Kowloon-based club beat Wallsend in the quarter-finals and Forest in the semis before losing 1-0 to Ajax All Stars after extra-time in the final last year.
“The Brazilians are the standard for me. They were very well structured,” Bridges said in reference to the five guest players who starred for USRC in last year’s event.
“We’ve got a tough group. It’s nice to be seeded this year, but obviously it’s put us in a situation where we’re seen as the top dogs, so we’ll have to go in there and perform.”
Bridges scored in the 1-1 group-stage draw with USRC last year and also netted in the win over KCC Veterans before dislocating his elbow in a tangle with former Scottish pro James Grady. He played no part as Wallsend lost 4-1 to USRC in the quarter-finals, but believes the side will be stronger this time.
“With the fresher legs we have this year, we can definitely put on a show and I think we can definitely go one better, if not two better, and give people a run for their money in the finals,” Bridges said. “I’ve got unfinished business. Believe you me, I’ve got unfinished business.”
USRC have included eight Brazilians in their provisional 12-man squad for this year’s event. Fabio Alcantara, who plays for Yuen Long in the Hong Kong Premier League and was joint top scorer in last year’s Masters Tournament, and Capone, a UEFA Cup winner with Galatasaray in 2000, are playing for USRC for a third straight year.
Other Brazilians include former Hong Kong captain Cristiano Cordeiro and 35-year-old newcomer Daniel Lins Cortes, who played five seasons for Wellington Phoenix.
Leo De Rujiter, who will manage the side, said: “USRC surprised a lot of people last year, but we weren’t so surprised as we knew we have a strong squad of Hong Kong-based pros who are familiar faces in the local football scene.
“Having come so close to winning last year, naturally we have ambitions to win the Cup, but this year it’s much more important to do well in the group stage as first we need to finish in the top two to make the semi-finals.”
Reduced from 12 to 10 teams, this year’s Masters Tournament starts with two round-robin groups of five, with the top two sides in each progressing to the Cup semi-finals and the third-placed in each securing a place in the Plate final.
The tournament will kick off at 6.00pm next Friday (May 29) with 10 Masters group games. Entry is free on the Friday evening (May 29), while tickets for the weekend are priced at HK$160 per day or HK$300 for a two-day pass and are available through Cityline (www.cityline.com).
Group A: Newcastle United (ENG), Leicester City (ENG), BC Rangers (HKG), Singapore Cricket Club (SIN)
Group B: West Ham United (ENG), Kitchee (HKG), Shanghai SIPG (CHN), HKFC Captain’s Select (HKG)
Group C: Aston Villa (ENG), Wellington Phoenix (NZL), HKFA U-18 (HKG), Hong Kong Football Club (HKG)
Group D: Stoke City (ENG), Atletico Madrid (SPA), HKFA U-20 (HKG), Yau Yee League Select (HKG)
Group A: Wallsend Boys Club (ENG), USRC – BTS (HKG), Kitchee All Stars (HKG), KCC Veterans (HKG), HKFC Veterans (HKG)
Group B: Citibank All Stars (ENG), Nottingham Forest Mobsters (ENG), SCC Tigers (SIN), Discovery Bay (HKG), HKFC Chairman’s Select (HKG)