When United City fell to a two-goal deficit against China’s Beijing Guoan, it looked like the four-time Philippines Football League title-holder was set to experience another trashing in the 2021 AFC Champions League.
But instead of bowing down, it served as a wake-up call for Mark Hartmann.
He provided the light at the end of the tunnel with a fantastic free-kick at the 59th minute, produced another good free-kick that Bienvenido Maranon tapped home at the 69th minute, and then scored the winner at the 80th minute.
“It’s a massive result for United City as well as Philippine football,” opined the 29-year-old striker after the club’s 3-2 win. “You could tell after the game what it meant to everyone involved in the club.
“It was just the same as any other free-kick I take. If I’m hitting the target there’s a good chance of it going in. I just came on but I felt confident. The last goal was the icing on the cake.”
Before this victory, United City experienced humblings at the hands of South Korea’s Daegu and Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale.
When the final whistle was sounded during the Beijing Guoan rubber match, players and coaches of the Filipino champions were euphoric at their achievement.
“It’s been a tough competition against some really good teams. But we’ve learned a lot with the defeats. We always look to take positives from each game. We deserved this win,” said Hartmann.
“It’s been a difficult period especially being away from my family for so long, I think everyone feels the same. But we’re here to do a job and win games so the other night definitely makes it worth it.”
Competing in Asia’s most prestigious club competition is addictive for players. They get to test themselves against top-level opponents and gain more respect from their peers.
For Hartmann, this run should merely be the beginning and not the climax for United City and the rest of the Philippine football community.
“Club level, this is the biggest stage. It’s the Champions League, which everyone wants to play in so it’s got to be up there with one of the biggest moments. Hopefully, there’s more to come,” said the former Global player.
“We want to finish the competition with a high and keep the momentum going. We do as we always do, work hard, play football and hopefully walk away with more points on the table.”