THERE is nothing quite like the Milk Cup to bring the world to Northern Ireland.
That’s the view of former international Gerry Armstrong, the Sky TV pundit who made the draw for this summer’s international youth tournament in Belfast last week.
Armstrong admitted he was particularly thrilled to see former clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Watford represented once again but also highlighted the quality and worldwide drawing power of the event.
The man who won 63 caps for Northern Ireland said: “No matter where I go in the world, so many people talk to me about the Milk Cup. It is one of the massive success stories for Northern Ireland not only in terms of football but also tourism.
“The significance of the event should never ever be underestimated or taken for granted.
“When you see the countries that will be represented it is a huge testament to the hard work of the organisers that they continue to produce a fabulous event despite the difficulties which have to be overcome in these financially challenging times.
“The Milk Cup is now a global brand which puts our country on the international map.”
The 1982 World Cup hero, who also played for Real Mallorca, told his W5 audience at Belfast’s Odyssey complex that he is proud to have been involved with one of Northern Ireland’s biggest success stories for many years.
Teams from Mexico, the USA, Israel, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Qatar and Scandinavia will be here to compete in three competitions, beginning on Monday, July 25, across 14 venues in the Coleraine, Limavady, Ballymoney and Ballymena areas.
In addition to holders USA and last year’s beaten finalists Northern Ireland, Israel, Denmark, Mexico and Georgia will contest the Elite tournament.
Perennial favourites and crowd pullers Manchester United are back in the Premier (U-17) competition with Spurs, Bolton Wanderers, holders Etoile Lusitana from Senegal, Desportivo Brazil and first timers Zamora from Venezuela.
Gerry was also pleased to recognise the name of Spain’s Athletico del Pinto in the mix, while Norway’s Vestmar LE and America’s South Coast Strikers are also hoping to impress on the big stage.
In the Junior section four-times champions Everton, Watford, Swindon Town, Ipswich Town, Plymouth Argyle, Brentford and Queen of the South are joined by FC Nordsjaelland (Denmark), Mexico’s Cruz Azul, AB Copenhagen and Revo Express from Norway.
The six county teams compete in both Premier and Junior events with Dublin clubs Cherry Orchard and Belvedere returning for the U-17 competition and Dundalk Schoolboys and North Dublin counterparts represented in the Junior category.
Milk Cup chairman Victor Leonard said: “We have continued with our tradition of bringing quality teams to the competition. For us it is quality and not quantity that counts. It is how we have maintained the high standard that attracts clubs of the calibre of Desportivo, Manchester United, Everton, Bolton and Copenhagen.
“We have something like 16 countries converging on the Province at the end of July and I know that the young players will receive a warm welcome in Coleraine at the opening parade which is always a highlight.”
The draw for opening stages of all three competitions is as follows:
Monday, July 25: Northern Ireland v Denmark; Mexico v Georgia; Israel v USA
Wednesday, July 27: Georgia v Northern Ireland; Demark v Israel; USA v Mexico
Monday, July 25: Zamora F.C. v Manchester United; Bolton Wanderers v Etoile Lusitana; Tottenham Hotspur v Otago; Athletico del Pinto v Hartlepool United; Aspire Academy v Belvedere; Co. Armagh v FC Figeirense; Co. Antrim v Co. Londonderry; Cherry Orchard v Co. Down; Co. Tyrone v Co. Fermanagh; Oxford United v Desportivo Brazil; Vestmar L.E. v South Coast Strikers
Tuesday, July 26: Belvedere v Zamora F.C.; Co. Armagh v Bolton Wanderers; Etoile Lusitana v Athletico del Pinto; Hartlepool United v Co. Antrim; Otago v Cherry Orchard; Co. Fermanagh v Tottenham Hotspur; FC Figeirense v Desportivo Brazil; Manchester United v Co. Tyrone; Co. Down v Vestmar L.E.; Co. Londonderry v South Coast Strikers; Oxford United v Aspire Academy
Wednesday, July 27: Zamora F.C. v Co. Tyrone; Bolton Wanderers v Cherry Orchard; Belvedere v Co. Armagh; Athletico del Pinto v Co. Fermanagh; Manchester United v Hartlepool United; Co. Londonderry v Oxford United; Co. Down v Etoile Lusitana; Co. Antrim v Desportivo Brazil; FC Figeirense v Vestmar L.E.; Aspire Academy v Otago; South Coast Strikers v Tottenham Hotspur
Monday, July 25: FC Nordsjaelland v Swindon Town; Hapoel Haifa v Watford; Cruz Azul v Reading; Revo Express v Plymouth Argyle; South Coast Strikers v Ipswich Town; AB Copenhagen v Brentford; Evertone v Queen of the South; North Dublin S.L. v Co. Londonderry; Dundalk S.L. v. Co. Down; Co. Tyrone v Co. Fermanagh; Co. Antrim v Co. Armagh
Tuesday, July 26: Revo Express v FC Nordsjaelland; Co. Down v Hapoel Haifa; Co. Fermanagh v Cruz Azul; North Dublin S.L. v Swindon Town; AB Copenhagen v South Coast Strikers; Ipswich Town v Co. Antrim; Co. Tyrone v Reading; Co. Londonderry v Everton; Queen of the South v Duundalk S.L.; Brentford v Watford; Plymouth Argyle v Co. Armagh
Wednesday, July 27: FC Nordsjaelland v Co. Antrim; Hapoel Haifa v North Dublin S.L.; Cruz Azul v Dundalk S.L.; Co. Armagh v Revo Express; Brentford v Co. Fermanagh; Co. Londonderry v AB Copenhagen; Reading v Plymouth Argyle; Swindon Town v Everton; Watford v Co. Down; South Coast Strikers v Co. Tyrone; Queen of the South v Ipswich Town