Progress of football in the Philippines shouldn’t be solely measured by the success of the Philippine Azkals.
There are other factors in play such as grassroots programs, club competition and facilities. Philippine football has grown substantially from the Azkals’ magical 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup run and it’s about to grow more after two of its clubs currently enjoy successful campaigns in international competition.
United Football League clubs Ceres-La Salle FC and Kaya FC set new standards for Philippine football when both of them entered the 2016 Asian Football Confederation Cup round of sixteen knockout stage.
Ceres’ quick trip
Ceres qualified for the 2016 AFC Cup as 2015 UFL League winners. The Bacolod-based club were then grouped with Tampines Rovers (Singapore), Selangor (Malaysia) and Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi (Bangladesh) in Group E. It proved to be a straightforward run for Ceres as they finished on top of the group undefeated with three wins and as much draws.
Passage to the next round was secured on match day five when Ceres earned a, 0-0, draw away at Selangor. After Sheikh Jamal upset Tampines Rovers in Bangladesh, the initiative was there for Ceres to clinch top spot in Group E. They did so in style when they trashed Sheikh Jamal, 5-0, in their final Group E fixture held in Bacolod last May 10, 2016.
If Ceres sped through to the knockouts, Kaya endured a procession towards the next stage.
Kaya entered the group stage as 2015 UFL Cup winners. They were then selected to join Group F alongside Kitchee SC (Hong Kong), New Radiant SC (Maldives) and Balestier Khalsa FC (Singapore). It was a poor start for Kaya after they lost, 0-1, away to Kitchee in Hong Kong. Two dramatic, 1-0, home wins at the Rizal Memorial Stadium were the response to Kaya in that setback.
Undeniably, the biggest win for Kaya came when they faced Balestier Khalsa away at Singapore on match day four. Amidst all the nervousness and trepidation, Kaya outplayed the home side and ended up, 0-3, winners on Singaporean soil.
The following game two weeks later, though, brought Kaya back to earth after they lost 0-1 against Kitchee at Rizal Memorial. What made the defeat worse was that Kaya’s chance to top the group went away as well. Nevertheless, Kaya secured a slot in the round of sixteen after they earned a, 0-0, draw away at New Radiant in Maldives last Tuesday, May 10 albeit as Group F runners-up.
On to the next round
As mentioned earlier, the round of sixteen knockout stage beckoned for the two clubs. It will only be a single-legged affair in this round as those who topped the group will get that much-needed home advantage.
Bacolod’s Panaad Stadium will host Ceres’ game against the Group G runners-up, Hong Kong-based squad South China AA. That game shall be played on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
On the other hand, Kaya will have a tricky away tie against Group H toppers and current AFC Cup holders Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia on Wednesday, May 25.
Providing at least one of Ceres and Kaya go through the round of sixteen, it is only in the quarterfinals and semifinals where games will be played home and away. Come the Finals, however, it will revert back to a single game and there shall be a draw on which of the two finalists will get to play with home advantage.
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