Kaya-Iloilo became the second FIlipino club to reach the prestigious AFC Champions League after defeating Shanghai Port, 1-0, in their playoff match held Wednesday, June 23 at the Leo Stadium in Pathum Thani, Thailand.
Audie Menzi’s first half goal proved to be the difference in the end as Kaya pulled off the greatest achievement in the club’s 25-year history by reaching the group stage of Asia’s premier club competition.
“The players were exceptional,” said Kaya’s English coach Graham Harvey. “This is our first game since November, maybe you could see in the last 15 minutes some players struggled, but everybody worked hard. It’s an amazing achievement for everybody in the club.”
Jubilation was all over the team’s dressing room as Kaya secured a spot in Group F of the Champions League, joining K.League champion Ulsan Hyundai from South Korea, Thai League 1’s BG Pathum United of the host country and V.League 1 titlist Viettel of Vietnam in Group F.
Kaya starts its campaign tomorrow night, still in the province located outside of Bangkok.
The club follows the lead of United City FC, which gained a direct slot to the Champions League following its title run in last season’s Philippines Football League.
The Asian Football Confederation allotted a direct slot to the PFL champion in the ACL with the expansion of participating clubs from 32 to 40 beginning this year, while Kaya was given a chance its way through two qualifying stages by virtue of being the runner-up last year’s domestic season.
Kaya got a break in the weeks leading up to the competition when preliminary round opponent Brisbane Roar of Australia was forced to withdraw due to a conflict with the A-League schedule.
Shanghai Port, which currently leads the Chinese Super League table was an early favorite to prevail in the playoff but opted to send a mixture of players from its youth and reserve squads, giving Kaya a fighter’s chance.
There was also some extra motivation for Kaya to continue its continental run, with the looming threat that the ASEAN zone of the AFC Cup could be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kaya was assured of a place in Group I had the club fell short in its ACL bid.
Menzi, a native of Benguet who spent time playing for Far Eastern University in the UAAP, supplied the only goal of the non-televised match when he scored a header off a corner kick in the 17th minute.