As one of the top homegrown players for the Philippines in recent memory, Kaya-Iloilo skipper Jovin Bedic paid his dues for a chance to compete in the 2021 AFC Champions League.
After the high of beating China’s Shanghai Port in the preliminary round, Kaya experienced defeat after defeat. They bowed to the likes of Vietnam’s Viettel, defending champions Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea, and Thailand’s BG Pathum United.
However, the 31-year-old only has fond memories of the team’s first foray into Asia’s grandest club competition.
“It wasn’t all that easy because as captain, you always have to strive to be a good example for your teammates,” said Bedic.
“But one game after the other, I’ve seen how each player got better. And despite the outcome, I believe we have learned and improved a lot as a team, and that made me so proud to have led such a hardworking team on the biggest stage of football in Asia.
“The atmosphere playing in the ACL is very different. Every game is like a championship game. The quality of the players and the passes were high. You can’t just pressure them because they can keep the ball really well, especially against the defending champions Ulsan Hyundai,” he continued.
It was in the rubber match against Ulsan Hyundai that Bedic made his mark in the tournament.
Down 1-0 and a man up, the Barotac Nuevo native scored a fantastic goal at a tight angle in the 47th minute. He gave Kaya a fighting chance for the points, only for the Korean club to score a winner four minutes later.
“Honestly, I did not expect that. Until now I still can’t believe that I scored against the champions of Asia,” said the former West Negros University product. “The ball just dropped in front of me from the cross, so I just struck the ball with power and luckily it went straight to the goal.
“I scored a lot of goals in my career, but this one was different because I am the first Ilonggo to score in the biggest stage of football in Asia. And it was against the defending champions and World Cup players.”
When Kaya first faced off against Pathum United, Viettel, and Ulsan Hyundai, the Philippines Football league side had a goal difference of minus-9.
However, in a short span of time, Graham Harvey’s men were able to step up and close the gap somehow. Their next three matches against the same opposition were one-goal losses.
“We watched the first three games back, so we knew what we should improve and develop in the second round,” explained Bedic. “I think we did well on the game plan because we were more in sync in the game compared to the first round.”
With Kaya’s continental campaign now over for this season, the club’s focus shifts towards the upcoming Philippines Football League season.
Competing in the AFC Champions League is addictive, though. And Bedic is raring to return with the club with whom he’s made his name.
“Every player in the Philippines wants to play on that stage. As a player coming from Barotac Nuevo, a small town in our country, to be one of those players who have been able to play against World Cup players of Asia… [It] Makes me realize that dreams do come true. I am very lucky and grateful for the opportunity,” said the 5-foot-7 striker.
“I’ve learned that there is nothing that you can’t do if you have the determination to achieve your goals. We will use this experience in our upcoming league here in the Philippines so we can come back on that stage next year.”