If you’ve been following top-tier Philippine league football, then you already know about the good news that United City FC qualified for the 2021 AFC Champions League.
The bad news is the club formerly known as Ceres FC has been drawn to one of the toughest groups in the continent’s most prestigious club tournament.
Following the draw on Jan. 27, United is slated to face Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale, China’s Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao FC, and the playoff winner between South Korea’s Daegu FC and Thailand’s Chiangrai FC in Group I.
United City just won last season’s Philippines Football League title, but the level of competition in the Champions League is just higher than what they’ve been accustomed to.
Kawasaki is the current champion of Japan’s J1 League, which it has won three times, although the club has yet to etch its name in the Champions League trophy.
Guangzhou, on the other hand, only placed second last season in the Chinese Super League, but it has won the domestic title eight times and the AFC Champions League trophy twice, in 2013 and 2015.
Interestingly, the Philippine National Men’s Football Team held the club to a scoreless draw in June 2019 during a friendly match, and since several United City players are Azkals stalwarts, they have a good idea who they’re up against.
For the East Region, Matchday 1 of the Champions League group stage will fall either on April 21 or 22, as tournament venues and final dates have yet to be announced.
This gives United City led by head coaches Trevor Morgan and Frank Muescan less than three months to bolster the squad to have a decent chance against the giants of Asian club football.
As this is the first time a Philippine club will represent the country in the AFC Champions League, United’s qualification for the 2021 tournament is already a milestone for Philippine club football.
But then again, for the great clubs, no milestone is ever enough.