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UCFC climbs Chinese wall

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Bienvenido Marañon and United City FC are thrilled to face Beijing Guoan FC. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UCFC

United City FC (UCFC) kicks off its campaign when it clashes with Beijing Guoan FC in the group stage opener of the 2021 AFC Champions League in Bunyodkor Stadium in Uzbekistan on Saturday.

Action begins at 10 p.m. (Manila time), as the four-time Philippines Football League champion begins its Group I campaign to test its mettle in the most prestigious club-based tournament in Asia.
Kaya FC is also tipped to face BG Pathum United in their group stage campaign at 6 p.m. in Bangkok, Thailand.

After an intense build-up for the competition, UCFC co-owner Eric Gottschalk said that his wards are all fired up to pull off a stunner on their debut in the continental pitch.

“Right now, the team is in very high spirits. Everybody is extremely excited (for the match),” Gottschalk said.

“The players are fit and we are ready to go on Saturday against Beijing.”

“It’s all about gaining experience and making sure that we are trying to perform as best as we can.”

Bracketed in the Group I of the tourney, United City was drawn alongside Japan League champion Kawasaki Frontale, Chinese Super League contenders Beijing Guoan FC, Korean powerhouse Daegu FC.

With the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the country, the club was forced to pitch training camp and conduct a series of friendly matches in Dubai, before heading to Uzbekistan for the last stretch of their preparations.

Led by team captain and Azkals midfielder Stephan Schrock and UCFC all-time scorer Bienvenido Marañon, the club will parade its latest signings like American defender Johnny Campbell, Korean booter Da-Hwon Jung and Nottingham FC academy graduate Kieran Hayes.

But their battle against Beijing will not be easy.

After finishing third in the recent season of the Chinese Super League, the decorated Chinese club is expected to unleash a heavy offensive side led by skipper Yu Dabao, Ivorian striker Cedric Bakambu and Brazilian midfielder Renato Agustin.

Despite the underdog status of the Filipino side, Gottschalk vows that the team will go all-out to get the strong start that they will be needing in the tourney.

“We believe that we deserve to be here in the Champions League, but obviously we are the underdogs,” Gottschalk said.

“If we get a couple of good results here and there, that would be a topping.”

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