Despite the pandemic, 2021 marks a new era for Philippine club football with the historic participation of United City FC and Kaya Iloilo FC in the AFC Champions League.
Both teams debuted in the top-tier tournament last Jan. 26, but with contrasting fates.
Kaya lost 4-1 to reigning Thai League 1 champions BG Pathum United in Thailand, while United City settled for a 1-1 draw despite dominating China’s Beijing Guoan in Uzbekistan.
The Iloilo-based club went off to a tentative start, and the defense that was shaky all throughout conceded three goals before half time.
To make matters worse, center back Simone Rota was sent off in the 49th minute for committing a professional foul that prevented a breakaway.
While it conceded another goal two minutes later, Kaya played much better despite being down to 10 men, and even got one goal back with Marwin Angeles scoring in the 81st minute.
Tonight, June 29, at 10, Kaya aims to bounce back in Group F against V.League 1 champions Viettel FC still at the Leo Stadium in Pathum Thani.
Viettel also dropped its first match 1-0 to K League 1 runners up Ulsan Hyundai FC, so the all-Southeast Asian encounter should provide plenty of fireworks as both clubs will be gunning for those precious first Champions League points.
United City, on the other hand, faces a tougher opponent in South Korea’s Daegu FC also tonight at 10 in Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent.
The Philippine Football League champions must have rued missing a milestone win against Beijing, which it outplayed the entire match, punctuated with a long-distance wonder goal from captain Stephan Schrock.
The match numbers said it all for United City: a whopping 75 percent possession and 19 shots on goal with four on target.
Beijing only made three shots on goal but the one that hit the back of the net made all the difference.
As heartbreaking the result must have been for United City, the players will have to outdo themselves once more in its second Champions League match tonight.
Daegu might not be the best South Korean club out there, but it’s expected to be the quicker and more technically superior side between the two.
Besides, Daegu will be raring to go for a win after losing its tight opening match against J1 League champion’s Kawasaki Frontale, 3-2.
That said, an upset courtesy of United City is not far-fetched, as the club has gone from strength to strength throughout the past few regional tournaments it has participated in.
Further, a win from second-place United City will leave the Group I race wide open.