Premier League champions ready for Sevens test

Leicester City Players arrive at the Hong Kong International Airport for the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens on 18 May 2016 in Hong Kong, China. Photo by Panda Man / Power Sport Images

Leicester City Players arrive at the Hong Kong International Airport for the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens on 18 May 2016 in Hong Kong, China. Photo by Panda Man / Power Sport Images

Former champions Leicester City must live up to expectations at this week’s HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens following their recent Premier League triumph, according to coach Steve Beaglehole.

Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester landed a maiden top-flight title earlier this month after winning the Premier League by a 10-point margin to claim a first championship in their 132-year history.

And after winning the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens on their second appearance in 2013, Leicester arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday alongside Aston Villa, West Ham United, Newcastle United and Stoke City with Beaglehole’s young side eyeing a successful fifth trip to Hong Kong Football Club.

“We have come here to try and win the tournament again and show people we have got some young players coming through at Leicester City,” said Beaglehole, with Leicester drawn in Group D alongside West Ham, Hong Kong Football Association U-21s and Singapore Cricket Club when the Main Tournament begins on Saturday.

“The players are excited, but they are aware of the expectations with the way the season has gone we are expected to perform at the highest level.

“These are young players trying to get in the team that has won the Premier League and won the Premier League in convincing style by quiet a margin.

“They know it is difficult to get in that team, but it is tournament like this that can help them on that pathway to first team football.”

In contrast, both Newcastle and Aston Villa have arrived in Hong Kong following relegation from the Premier League, although both have tasted success at Hong Kong Football Club in the past.

Aston Villa are the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens’ most successful side with five wins, while Newcastle won the title on their debut in 2012 and have never failed to make it to at least the semi-finals on their three appearances since.

“We always look forward to it, it is a great place with great people, and the football is always good. It is something we are very proud to be a part of and long may it continue,” said Newcastle coach Peter Beardsley, with his side drawn in Group A alongside Aston Villa, local side Kitchee and hosts Hong Kong Football Club.

“It is a young squad, we want to win, but we will try and they have been fighting to be a part of this group and the ones that are want to be part of it.

“The relegation does not really affect the team, obviously everyone is disappointed, but that is natural, but this is a reward for all their hard work. Some of the players have been with the first team, some have been with the academy, so we have a mix and it is good.”

Aston Villa have suffered quarter-final exits in the past three years at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens, but have established a reputation of bringing future Premier League performers over the years in the shape of Gabby Agbonlahor, Craig Gardner, Liam Ridgewell, Gary Cahill, Nathan Baker and Jack Grealish.

And this year Aston Villa have included Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, who played against Newcastle in the Premier League earlier this month, as well as fellow attackers Keinan Davis and Corey Blackett-Taylor, who also featured in first-team squads during the recent campaign.

“For these lads coming over it is a very young side, but it is a good experience. Two or three have been here before, but the majority have not,” said Aston Villa coach Gordon Cowans.

“There are some very good sides and some good players and some of the English sides who have come over we know very well. We have a young side and will give everything we have got, and the main thing is the experience of coming out here.”

West Ham, meanwhile, will look to build on last year’s final appearance, while Stoke will face New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix, Hong Kong champions Eastern and local side Yau Yee League Select in Group B.

The final group in the Main Tournament sees Japan’s Kashima Antlers, South Korea’s FC Seoul, Thai Youth Football Home and HKFC Captain’s Select face off in Group C.