Originally published by ESPN TV5
The best of Philippine club football have been grouped with some of the biggest clubs in the continent for the 2021 edition of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League and Cup.
Philippine representatives United City FC (UCFC) and Kaya FC discovered their respective fates after the official draw on Wednesday afternoon.
United City is the first Filipino club to earn a direct ticket to the AFC Champions League Group Stage, where they will make their debut in Group I. The Philippines Football League (PFL) champions were drawn alongside J1 League champions Kawasaki Frontale, CSL runner-up Guangzhou, and a yet to be determined play-off winner.
UCFC co-founder Eric Gottschalk acknowledged his team is matched up against some of the best clubs in the region, but insisted they aren't there to make up the numbers.
"We deserve to be playing on this level," Gottschalk told ESPN5.com. "It will come down to if we are going to be able to be well prepared from a training and fitness aspect before the first match."
"If we don't think we have a chance then we would not enter the competition. We are not going there for a photo op, we are going there to play football and to win," he added.
Gottschalk conceded getting a positive result would be difficult against the 'powerhouses of Asian football', but believes they have the ability to make some noise in the biggest club competition in the continent.
"If this is possible at the end (beating their opponents in the group stage), we don't know. Look at the competition and the opposition that we're facing," Gottschalk said. "But at the same time if we don't think that we can win then let's save the money and all stay home."
While UCFC is the only Philippine club with a direct slot into the Champions League Group Stages, Kaya FC have a shot at making the dance as well.
To qualify the PFL runners-up must survive a pair of stern tests in the preliminary stages. Kaya is slated to tackle the Brisbane Roar of Australia on April 7 for a chance to face Chinese club Beijing FC in the play-off a week later.
While it will be a difficult road to the Champions League, Kaya GM Paul Tolentino is hopeful they could barge into the Group Stages.
"We're excited to get the AFC Cup 2021 going, but before that, we should be allowed to dream," Tolentino said in a statement. "Let's go Brisbane, let's go Beijing!"
Should Kaya fall short of qualifying for the Champions League they will be relegated to the AFC Cup, where they have been sorted into Group I. Awaiting Kaya in the AFC Cup are Shan United or Ayeyawady United of Myanmar, Terengganu of Malaysia, and Geylang International of Singapore.
"We're especially excited that we potentially get the chance to play against our former striker who is at Terangganu FC," Tolentino said. "We know Shan United quite a bit, we played them last year and we'll be looking forward to playing them again. Geylang will be a new opponent for us. However, we are quite familiar with the clubs in Singapore."
Both the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup are slated to be played in centralized venues from April 21 to May 7 and June 22 to 28, respectively.