Originally published by THE AFC
Manila: Veteran Stephan Schrock is confident the only way is up for Philippines football following the AFC Champions League group stage debuts of Home United FC and Kaya FC-Iloilo.
Schrock's United City finished third in Group I of the recently concluded 2021 AFC Champions League (East) group stage in Tashkent while Kaya FC, who progressed from the playoff after defeating Shanghai Port FC, ended their Group F campaign in Bangkok with six defeats.
Despite both teams not advancing to the Round of 16, Schrock said the experience gained can only benefit Philippines football.
"Obviously, our group was the hardest by far. So therefore I’m very proud of the four points we gathered in this 'group of death'," Schrock told GMA News Online in an interview.
Both teams went into the group stage severely lacking competitive exposure and Schrock - who scored a sublime goal against Beijing FC in United City's opening match - believes that it will be a more level playing field once everything is back to normal.
"We haven’t played because of the COVID-19 situation. Other countries, for example Japan, Korea or Thailand, could play their domestic leagues prior to the AFC Champions League.
"When everything is back to normal, I believe we can upset powerhouses and with a bit of luck in the group drawings, we can even advance into the knockout stages."
Despite their limitations, United City had their moments in the 2021 AFC Champions League with their four points coming off the two meetings with Beijing, which included a come-from-behind 3-2 win over their Chinese Super League opponents in the return fixture.
Kaya FC were competitive as well in a group that had defending champions Ulsan Hyundai FC of Korea Republic, Thailand's BG Pathum United and Viettel FC of Vietnam.
What Schrock knows for sure, though, is that United City FC will use the experience gained in the 2021 AFC Champions League to defend their Philippine Football League title.
"We will produce another masterpiece in the domestic league," vowed Schrock, which - if realised - will ensure United City FC another tilt at the AFC Champions League in 2022.