The 2016 edition of the Asian Football Confederation Cup could be considered a success for Philippine football. It witnessed two local clubs, Kaya Football Club and Ceres-La Salle Football Club, get past the group stages. While both teams were eliminated in the round of sixteen, getting that far was a huge achievement nonetheless.
For Kaya captain Aly Borromeo, all focus now turns to the 2016 United Football League.
“I think we have to bring ourselves back down to Earth, get our feet back going again in domestic league. We started off losing to Global which actually put us back down to Earth. It made us realize that different level, different competition so we have different goals. It’s a good experience. It was a good outcome in the end. No one expected us to make it that far but at the same time it helped the whole team generally for the upcoming games.”
Borromeo admitted that the whole journey had had an air of incredulity to him. “It was weird, actually. It felt like I was playing for the Azkals but it’s with Kaya and it’s surreal. It’s a surreal experience,” he quipped.
While Philippine football has grown so much in the past few years, he noted that the experience had been an eye-opener. “We’re still a few steps behind in terms of being sharp, movement, but we’re getting there. It’s just a matter of proper facilities, infrastructures, organizations, everything. Small steps, baby steps.”
Without a doubt, the biggest result Kaya achieved was their 3-0 away win against Singaporean club Balestier Khalsa FC. Borromeo has fond memories of that game and recalled that it had felt like a home game. “We had supporters out there cheering us on. I think we we’re just hungrier. This is a new experience for everyone and we just wanted to get out there and show we can play, we can compete against teams in South East Asia teams too.”
In contrast to that Balestier Khalsa away game, Kaya’s final fixture against the defending AFC Cup winners Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia in the knockout round was a humbling experience. Kaya eventually lost that game 2-7. Borromeo explained, “We went there thinking we can pull something out of the hat but at the same time we gotta keep grounded, take a step back and defend a bit. We were too over-eager. Too overconfident trying to go through the same game plan but we should have sat back a bit. But it’s a good experience nevertheless. We scored two goals there and we’ll translate that to the UFL.”
As Global recently won the 2016 UFL Cup, the only way Kaya can enter the 2017 AFC Cup is to be crowned 2016 UFL champions. Borromeo declared, “We want to get back to the AFC Cup and we want to show that we’re capable of competing at a higher level again. We want to show that we’re one of the best teams locally and translate that to Asian football.”