SOME individuals in the world exist in a state of obscurity. And yet that doesn’t bother them as they know the important roles they play in the grand scheme of things.
These individuals can be likened to the 2018 Copa Paulino Alcantara: virtually out of the average football fan’s radar, the cup competition exists to serve a higher purpose.
Such higher purpose will be known tomorrow – at least to those who follow club football in the country – when Kaya FC Iloilo and the Davao Aguilas FC clash in the inaugural Copa Paulino Alcantara championship.
The winner of tomorrow’s match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium won’t just be hailed as the first Philippines Football League Cup champions, they will earn a slot at the 2019 AFC Cup and join 2018 PFL champions Ceres Negros FC in the Asean Zone Group Stage.
Participating in the AFC Cup is a big deal for a number of reasons. For one, club football in Asia is growing at an unprecedented pace. The continent’s premier club tournament, the AFC Champions League, has become a staple in Asian club football over the last half century, but the tournament mainly caters to countries with strong football infrastructure and programs.
Seeing the need to make football more inclusive, the Asian Football Confederation, the continent’s governing body, poured its resources into developing the sport among emerging nations under the Vision Asia program. One of the key thrusts was on club football, and so the AFC Cup was born 14 years ago.
By far, only two PFL clubs have participated in the more prestigious AFC Champions League: Global FC (2017) and Ceres (2018). In the AFC Cup, there have been three: Global (2015, 2017 and 2018), Ceres (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018), and Kaya (2016).
The bad news is Global won’t be playing in any overseas match any time soon as it hasn’t won any titles this year. The good news is that Global’s near collapse (which was dealt with just in time, fortunately) has given other clubs the chance to compete internationally. Ceres, which earned a slot in the 2019 AFC Champions League Preliminary Round after winning its second PFL title this year, will have to wait which between Kaya and the Aguilas will join them in the AFC Cup Asean Zone Group Stage as direct entrants when hostilities commence in April 2019.
After tomorrow’s Copa Paulino Alcantara championship match, will it be Kaya Iloilo that will make a return on the international stage, or will Asian club football welcome a newcomer in Davao Aguilas?
Kaya made it this far after edging Stallion Laguna in a 3-2 thriller, while the Younghusband-led Aguilas had an easier 6-1 disposal of JPV Marikina, in the semifinals. Tomorrow at 7 p.m., the two clubs will slug it out not just for the inaugural cup championship but for an opportunity to play at a higher level and represent club and country before an international audience.
In sum, that is how crucial the Copa is. Too bad that the PFL itself is grappling with plenty of challenges, a number of which are beyond its control, that fans are deprived of the pleasure of watching a historic game on television.
October 25, 2018
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