April 1, 105: Reigning Spanish champions Atletico Madrid will make their tournament debut at this year’s HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens, which will be held at Hong Kong Football Club from May 29-31.
Atletico, Spain’s third-best supported club after Real Madrid and Barcelona, will be the first Spanish club to compete in the annual seven-a-side tournament, which will mark its 16th edition in May – a year after Atletico clinched their 10th La Liga title.
Emilio Gutiérrez, Director of the club’s Academy and Expansion, said: “Atletico Madrid is proud to be the first Spanish side to compete at the HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens, which has a strong reputation. We can see that many great teams have won the event and each year there are famous clubs competing, so we’ll just do our best and hope to entertain the fans with our style of football.
“We are sure that this tournament will be also a great platform to promote the Atletico Madrid brand all over the Asian market, which is a strategic area in the international expansion process of our club.”
Tony Bratsanos, Chairman of the HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens Organising Committee, said the addition of Atletico – last year’s UEFA Champions League runners-up – was part of a new direction for the tournament.
“We wanted to make some changes to give the HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens a more international, global feel,” Bratsanos said.
“We wanted to include some other clubs from Europe, not just English clubs, so were thrilled when we were able to secure Atletico Madrid as Spanish champions. If this proves a success, which I’m confident it will, we’ll seek to add one or two more next year.”
Bratsanos, Chairman of the Organising Committee since the event’s inauguration in 1999, believes the Spanish giants will make a major impact on their debut at Hong Kong Football Club, where they’re expected to field academy players.
“Fernando Torres came through their youth system and he’s done pretty well for himself, so we’re expecting them to bring out a very strong youth side,” Bratsanos said.
“Spanish players are typically quick, technically excellent and great at possession football, so I’m confident they’ll excel at seven-a-side.”
Atletico will seek to challenge the domination of English clubs, who have won 10 of the 15 editions of the tournament.
Five-time champions Aston Villa (2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010), recent winners Newcastle United (2012) and Leicester City (2013), West Ham, appearing for the first time since 2012, and debutants Stoke City will represent the English Premier League charge in Hong Kong this year.
The remaining sides in this year’s 16-team Main competition and teams competing in the over-35 Masters tournament will be announced next week.
Future stars who have competed in the Main competition include Gabby Agbonlahor, Glen Johnson, Marc Albrighton, David Bentley, Anton Ferdinand, Sammy Ameobi, Shaun Maloney, Jack Grealish and Rolando Aarons.
The Masters tournament has featured former England internationals Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Chris Waddle, Teddy Sheringham, Des Walker, Andy Cole and Matt Le Tissier, German legends Jurgen Klinsmann and Pierre Littbarski, Finnish icon Jari Litmanen, Dutch great Aron Winter and former France winger Didier Six.