Northern Ireland football legend Gerry Armstrong has high hopes this year’s SuperCupNI will hit the target with soccer-crazy fans.
The man whose goal against Spain in the 1982 World Cup finals delivered an epic victory in Valencia will help organisers of the top international youth tournament make the draw for this summer’s event.
Thursday’s event at W5 in Belfast will be the precursor to the main attraction which starts after the European Championship finals in France with a new Under-21 four-team tournament on Thursday, July 21, and is followed by the traditional Junior and Premier competitions from Monday, July 25.
“I’ve been privileged to attend the event for many years and witness its development into a world class tournament,” says Sky TV analyst Gerry. “It is a wonderful celebration of youth football and deserving of all our support.
“I believe that because of the longevity of the competition it is sometimes taken for granted in some quarters but we should never become complacent about it because it continues to be a jewel in the crown so far as attracting visitors to the country.
“It simply does this by offering us top class football by attracting a truly international line up of talent. It takes so much hard work and dedication to maintain the highest of standards and I salute the tireless volunteers for that.”
Celtic and Everton are sending their top U-21 players to the inaugural older age group while two teams from Brazil along with representatives from Chile and Colombia are tackling the Premier section.
Sao Paulo clubs Ponte Preta and Osasco Audax are newcomers in a mix that includes Real Sociedad, past winners Newcastle United, Hibernian, Belgian first timers KV Mechelen, 2014 beaten finalists Vendee from France and defending champions Right to Dream from Ghana.
Also jetting in for the Premier competition will be Chile’s O’Higgins and the Alset Academy from Bogata in Colombia while Club America from Mexico will also attempt to make an impact, along with Ichifuna (Japan), the Zambians of Lusaka, US side Strikers together with New Zealanders Otago and M Sports Select.
In the hat for the Junior draw are Mexican outfits Chivas Guadalajara and Club Veracruz, Right to Dream, MS Select from New Zealand, Chile’s Colina and Alset from Colombia, while North American sides Tenesee, California’s Strikers and GPS FC Bayern are the long haul travellers.
Rangers, Patrick Thistle, past winners Swindon Town and Brentford, plus Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Cambridge United and Plymouth Argyle, add another dimension along with Republic of Ireland competitors Dundalk Schools, Cherry Orchard and North Dublin.
ClubNI, the Irish FA’s exciting Development squad, are also competing in this section.
In addition to the three age groups, the women’s section features two games between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on Saturday, July 23 and the following Monday which will be valuable preparation for the UEFA Women’s Championships in Northern Ireland next year.
Ulster’s six County teams are represented in both Junior and Premier with County Antrim defending their Junior title. Ulster teams have been to two of the last three finals at Junior level. Tyrone lost narrowly to Manchester United back in 2013.