PHILIPPINE Football League (PFL) champion United City Football Club (UCFC) will make history in 2021 as the first Philippine club to compete in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.
UCFC, formerly named Ceres Negros FC, earned an outright slot to the most prestigious club competition in Asian football after the Champions League expanded from 32 teams last year to 40 clubs this year.
UCFC is in a tough Group I with China’s Guangzhou FC, Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale, and the winner of the playoff match between South Korea’s Daegu FC and Thailand’s Chiangrai United.
Guangzhou FC is one of the powerhouse clubs in the Chinese Super League. The club has won eight of the Chinese Super League’s 17 seasons. Guangzhou FC won seven straight titles from 2011 to 2017 and was the league’s champion in 2019 before being dethroned by Jiangsu Suning in 2020.
Guangzhou FC has three Brazilians in its roster, namely striker Anderson Talisca, forward Elkenson and most notably former Tottenham Hotspur and FC Barcelona midfielder Paulinho.
Guangzhou FC is being mentored by former Italian star Fabio Cannavaro along with his brother Paolo Cannavaro as an assistant.
On the other hand, Kawasaki Frontale is the reigning J1 League titleholder.
Aside from its talented Japanese players, the club also has former South Korean No. 1 national team goalkeeper Jung Sung Ryong and Brazilians Leandro Damiao and Jesiel.
The East Zone Group Stage kicks off on April 21, 2021 in a centralized “bubble” venue.
Meanwhile, Kaya Iloilo FC attempts to crawl into the AFC Champions League with a very difficult road.
Kaya will have to beat two clubs before it can earn a slot in the AFC Champions League in Group F along with Thailand’s BG Pathum United, South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai and Vietnam’s Viettel FC.
Kaya must beat Australia’s Brisbane Roar FC in its first preliminary match on April 7, 2021 to advance against China’s Beijing FC on April 14, 2021.
Kaya is also competing in the AFC Cup that kicks off with the preliminary round on April 28, 2021.
Kaya is in Group I with Malaysia’s Terengganu, Singapore’s Geylang International and the winner of the playoff match between Shan United and Ayeyawady United. / EKA