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Cebu
Saturday, July 31, 2021
CEBU

Villaflor: In the league of champions

Footnote

Not just one, but two.

These are the number of Philippine clubs that have made history as the country’s first ever representatives to the prestigious AFC Champions League.

By defeating a former Chinese Super League titlist 1-0 in a playoff last Wednesday evening, June 23, 2021, Kaya Iloilo FC joined United City FC in the annual tournament of Asian football’s elite clubs.

As reigning Philippine Football League champions, United City qualified outright to the regional tournament’s group stage, but Kaya, as runners-up, still had to go through the eye of the needle via qualifying playoffs.

And what a gritty way for Kaya to qualify, defeating Chinese club Shanghai Port FC by a hair’s breadth at the Leo Stadium in Pathum Thani, Thailand.

The lone goal was courtesy of Audie Menzi, who headed the ball into the back of the net off Daizo Horikoshi’s corner in the 17th minute.

What made the win -- and historic qualification -- even more incredible is that Kaya’s opponents are among China’s best.

Shanghai Port FC, then known as Shanghai SIPG, were Chinese Super League champions in 2018 and runners-up in 2015 and 2017.

Unfortunately for fans, the playoff wasn’t broadcast, and those who followed the match had to rely on social media for updates.

Hopefully, we’ll watch our beloved PFL representatives do battle as the group stage gets rolling in the next few days.

Kaya FC will face reigning Thai League 1 champions BG Pathum United on Saturday, June 26, at 6 p.m. to kickstart its Group F Champions League campaign in Leo Stadium.

Kaya will then face V.League 1 champions Viettel FC on June 29, then K League 1 runners- up Ulsan Hyundai FC on July 2, both in Leo Stadium.

In Group I, United City FC will play its first ever Champions League match against China’s Beijing Guoan at 10 p.m. also on June 26 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

United City’s next assignment will be against South Korea’s Daegu FC on June 29, then face J1 League champion’s Kawasaki Frontale on July 2.

Both United City and Kaya have achieved the unthinkable time and again, so don’t be surprised if either of the two Philippine clubs pull off an upset or two against their stronger and more established counterparts in the Champions League.


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