Kaya FC essayed an impressive 1-0 win over Shanghai Port FC in the playoff match of the AFC Challenge Cup early Thursday (Manila time) at the Pathum Thani Stadium in Bangkok.
The win was a historic conquest for the 2020 Philippine Football League titlist as it sealed its entry to the AFC Champions League also in Bangkok from 26 June to 11 July.
“Everyone was a warrior there for us in the game. It was an amazing achievement for everybody,” Kaya head coach Graham Harvey said.
“We’re now on the biggest stage of Asia and we play against some of the biggest sides so we have to make sure that we do celebrate and enjoy tonight as much as we can.”
Defender Audie Menzi spelled the difference after hitting a thunderous header from a corner kick in the 17th minute, giving the Iloilo-based squad the confidence it needed in the crucial stretch.
Shanghai almost had a chance for a last-minute equalizer, but Kaya’s backline defense led by goalkeeper Louie Casas delivered heroic stops that ultimately nailed their slot in the prestigious tourney.
The stunning victory sent Kaya to the Group F of the tourney that already has Thai supremo BG Pathum United, Vietnamese titlist Viettel and Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai — the reigning champion of this prestigious tourney.
Kaya will also join fellow Filipino club and Philippine Football League champion United City FC, marking the first time for the country to have two entries in the Champions League since its formation in 1967.
But more than achieving the biggest feat of their 25-year club history, Graham said his wards are already pumped up to prove their skills against the superpowers of Asia.
Bannered by skipper Jovin Bedic, Azkals rising star Jarvey Gayoso and veteran defender Simon Rota, Kaya will clash with BG Pathum in its first match on 26 June.
“I think from the dressing room, the boys are already starting to focus on six games, six more big games obviously,” Harvey said.
“We’ve made it through, we’ve made history. Now, we want to make sure that we’ll do some justice in the group stage.”