Twenty-five years into its existence, Kaya-Iloilo is living the dream of playing in Asia’s biggest club competition. However, its journey so far in the 2021 AFC Champions League has been rough, with the level of the opposition proving to be a step too far.
First, it suffered 4-1 opening-day defeat at the hands of Thailand’s BG Pathum United. Then it took a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Vietnam’s Viettel.
Back-to-back losses have condemned Kaya to dead last in Group F, with no points and a goal difference of -8.
“Before the game, we were anticipating that Viettel would come out a lot different from what they did against Ulsan,” commented coach Graham Harvey. “We were just poor from the start, to be honest. You can’t give a team like that a 2-0 start. Even during the start of the second half, you can see from the set-piece.
“So quickly after halftime, our plans were up in the air straight away.”
In a sense, Kaya has come into this tournament without the best preparations.
COVID-19 quarantine policies implemented by the national government have hindered Harvey’s men. Meanwhile, he himself was only able to meet up with the players and other members of the coaching staff before they played Shanghai Port in the play-off match.
All these factors have forced everyone connected to the club to absorb things on the fly. And this, all while in the hot seat against some of Asian football’s toughest sides.
Things will only get worse before they can get better. Still, to get to that point, one has to actually try and take risks.
“The mistakes there — particularly in the first half — were probably repetition of what we did against BG as well. We have to make sure that we go in and reflect, and make sure that we actually learn from these experiences,” said the former technical director of Redlands United in Australia.
Now, Kaya has just four matches left to try and salvage something or even provoke a miracle. And it now understands that playing in the AFC Champions League is a whole different ball game compared to competing in the AFC Cup.
Despite everything, though, the players will fight until the end. And they will continue their distinct brand of football that observers will easily recognize.
“We’ve come here to try and entertain, but we’ve also come here to learn,” contended Harvey. “We feel as though if we just sit back and don’t try to play our style, then what are we really learning? We are keen to make sure we try as best we can to impose our style on the game.
“We’re up against Asia’s top clubs, so we have to be respectful and understand what they can do to counter us and try and stop them.”
The challenge for Kaya does not get any easier with defending Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai on the horizon. Still, Harvey and the rest of his men would not have it any other way. And they will continue to persevere to prove their worth in the Asian Champions League.