A Hong Kong football team reached the last 16 of one of the world’s top youth tournaments last week, the best performance by a side from the city in the history of the competition.
The Kitchee Under-16 team produced a shock result in the knock-out stages of the Mediterranean International Cup on the Costa Brava in Spain. The tournament provides a stage for soccer stars of the future and in the past has featured players such as Lionel Messi and Neymar, who have gone on to become famous with Barcelona.
A dramatic late goal, headed in by Robbie Stamp from Island School, secured a win for Kitchee over highly-rated Spanish team Club Gimnastic Manresa to spark wild celebrations from the Hong Kong players.
The team held on to their lead through the tense final minutes of the match, winning 1-0 and sealing their passage to the last 16. They later missed out on a quarter-final place, losing 2-0 to US Region 1 Select, from America, in a fiercely contested match.
Kitchee had earlier qualified from the group stages, recovering from a 4-0 defeat in their opening game against top Spanish club Valencia, from La Liga. The Hong Kong team bounced back with an emphatic 9-0 victory over CE Carroi, from Andorra, before playing out an exciting 2-2 draw with another Spanish team, Llagostera.
The victory against Gimnastic Manresa, which followed, meant Kitchee went further in the tournament than Valencia.
Stamp, the team’s striker and top goal-scorer in the tournament, said: “As challenging as it was to play against teams like Valencia it was still a surreal experience. Then, to score the winning goal to take us further in the tournament than Valencia, I just couldn’t really believe it was happening.”
Coach Yago Aguilar, Director of Kitchee’s Youth Development, said the boys from Hong Kong had improved as the tournament progressed.
“The team adapted very fast. What we try to do is to let the players learn a lot from each game. It is also useful for them to know how strong the football level is overseas, especially in Spain,” he added.
He said the victory over Gimnastic Manresa came as a surprise, as the team tops the 2nd Division in that age group in Catalonia.
“We had to play and fight in each game and that is what we did,” he added.
Among the 52 teams competing in the Under 16 tournament were top Spanish sides Espanyol, Villarreal, and Sevilla. The winners were Aspire Football Dreams, from Senegal. Teams competing in other age groups included Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
The other Hong Kong team in the Under 16 tournament, Chelsea FC Soccer School Hong Kong, reached the last 32, before being beaten by UE Olot, from Spain.
The Kitchee squad for the tournament was captain Liu Chi-him, Barak Braunshtain, Chan Wing-kan, Cheng Chin-pang, Cheung Yiu-yeung, Seb Buddle, Leo Chow Ka-lok, Theo Leung, Nir Horowitz, Lam Chun-him, Lau Ka-chung, Lo Jun-yan, Jeffrey Loo, Oded Perlman, Robbie Stamp, Mark Swainston, Wan King-yeung and Wong Ho-yee, with coaches Aguilar and Wong Keung.