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Philippines representatives Kaya, Ceres begin quest for AFC Cup Glory

Filipino club Ceres
Ceres have bolstered their squad well to ensure they can compete with the big boys in the AFC Cup. (Photo credit: Ceres)

For the first time in history, two teams will represent the Philippines in the group stages of the AFC Cup.

UFL League champions Ceres La Salle and UFL Cup champions Kaya FC are set to make their debuts in the competition on Feb. 23.

To be sure, this achievement pales in comparison to other countries, where perhaps no less than participation in the more prestigious AFC Champions League will suffice.

But for a country like the Philippines, where football is only catching on after years in the dark ages, it is a massive accomplishment.

For football to grow, it is important that domestic clubs regularly participate in regional competitions abroad, in order to gauge the strength of the domestic league.

The experience of being able to play international club football is also a big step in any player's football education, as Azkals Coach Thomas Dooley is quick to point out.

"The younger players getting experience playing abroad, maybe against a different team in a different stadium with more crowds and maybe also a little bit more in the news about them, hopefully it will put some pressure on them," Dooley told ESPN FC.

"Those experiences are important; you see how in other countries how they play, how the fans support them and how crazy it is sometimes to play in those stadiums."

An undermanned Global FC, the Philippines' lone representative in the AFC Cup group stages last year, came within a goal away from advancing to the knockout stages.

This year, Kaya and Ceres hope to go one better.

Ceres FC
Ceres will go up against Tampines, Selangor and Dhanmondi in Group E. (Photo credit: Ceres)

After going out in the playoff round of the same competition last year, Ceres spared no expense and beefed up its roster by signing Bundesliga 2 veteran Stephan Schrock and Kevin Ingreso to their line-up with the clear intention of doing well in the AFC Cup.

They are bracketed in Group E with Tampines Rovers, Selangor FA and Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi of Bangladesh.

Ceres Coach Ali Go is clear about his ambitions: "This season, we're representing the Philippines for the AFC Cup, so we have some areas I think we could strengthen.

"As long as we have a game plan in the AFC Cup, we'll contend. Our target is advancing to the second round, that's our target."

New Ceres signing Schrock can't wait for the AFC Cup to start: "I heard that it's a tough, tough group in the AFC Cup, so I'm looking forward to it, am excited to play there and to see how good the other teams are."

Kaya FC
Kaya will take on Kitchee, Balestier and New Radiant in Group F. (Photo credit: Ceres)

For Azkals hero and new Kaya coach Chris Greatwich, being in the AFC Cup is a big achievement for the club, but he hopes to contend and not just make up the numbers.

"I think our inclusion in the AFC Cup is a huge milestone for the Kaya. I know the club had ambitions for us to compete not only on the domestic level but at the regional level too, so this hopefully will prove to be a watershed moment for the club," says Greatwich.

"I think it's also great for Filipino football that our clubs start to compete consistently at this level. Global did a great job last year, especially given the fact they had a severely undermanned squad, so hopefully both Ceres and us can give good account of ourselves also.

Kaya are bracketed in Group F with Hong Kong side Kitchee, Singapore's Balestier Khalsa and the Maldives' New Radiant who all have prior experience in the AFC Cup.

"I think we have to respect the opponents that we are up against. We have a tough group and all the teams have played at this level before so we will have a difficult task. However, we will not play with fear and we will certainly be going into the competition believing we can qualify from the group.

"I believe if we apply ourselves in the correct way and play to our full potential then I think we can have a very positive AFC Cup campaign," says Greatwich.

On Feb. 23, Ceres host Selangor FA in Panaad Stadium in Bacolod while Kaya travel to Hong Kong to face Kitchee SC to open their AFC Cup campaign.

Manila-based Ryan Fenix is football columnist for Sports5 Philippines and analyst for He is also a FIFA Ballon d'Or juror.


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