They may have been knocked out of the UEFA Cup, failed to make the last two in the FA or League Cups and not be in the title race anymore but Aston Villa could very well end the season with silverware.
They are taking part in the fourth outing of the Peace Cup which began back in 2003. The three previous contests have been held in South Korea with PSV Eindhoven taking the glory in 2003, Tottenham Hotspur in 2005 and Lyon lifting the trophy in 2007. This year’s tournament sees big names like Aston Villa, Juventus, Sevilla and Real Madrid all competing. This time the clubs travel to Andalucía to face off in search of glory, with the winners receiving $2m and the runners up $500,000.
Villa has been drawn against Spanish side Malaga and Scottish giants Celtic in what could prove a tricky group. Boss Martin O’Neil will be looking to provide some of his younger players with more experience of continental football prior to their likely European campaign next season.
Despite being drawn against two difficult sides hopes will be high at Villa Park that they will be able to make it through the group stages to play one of the biggest teams in Europe, in Real Madrid or Juventus. One English team have already won the competition with Spurs winning the final thanks to two Robbie Keane goals to beat Lyon 3-1.
The competition welcomes clubs from across the world including Al-Ittihad from Saudi Arabia, Fenerbahce from Turkey, LDU Quito from Ecuador and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma from South Korea. 2006 saw a women’s version, the Peace Queens Cup, played amongst eight national sides from five continents with the USA triumphant.
The tournament is run through the Sunmoon Peace Football Foundation which is connected to South Korea’s Unification Church and they provide the prize money for the winning team.
In South Korea the matches attracted large crowds and over 56,000 people watched Lyon win in 2007. The organisers hope that by moving the event to Europe and attracting some of the biggest clubs in world football they will attract even more spectators. Similar tournaments are held in Africa between club sides representing different nations in an effort to heal wounds left about by war.
Although Martin O’Neil will be facing his old employers when Villa meet Celtic there will be no doubting his determination to win. Not only would victory in this tournament give the Midland side a great moral boast in their preparations for next season but it would also give them plenty of publicity which may be necessary to attract the quality players that Villa need to break into the top four.