Kaya FC-Iloilo have became the second side from the Philippines to qualify into the AFC Champions League group stage after edging out Chinese giants Shanghai Port 1-0 on Wednesday’s qualifying play-off. A single header in the first half from defender Audie Manzi was enough to send the Visayans into the promised land at their opponents’ expense.
Shanghai Port came into the Leo Stadium in Pathum Thani with a severely understrength squad, having brought their U-23 team to Thailand for this tie due to China’s COVID-19 measures. The strict quarantine procedures in the country meant that Chinese Super League clubs were forced to field their youthful reserves for their continental obligations, with their best players being left at home for their domestic duties.
This meant that Shanghai Port were without the likes of Oscar, Aaron Mooy, Ricardo Lopes, and even head coach Ivan Leko, with Takayuki Kaneko handling the kids at the Leo Stadium.
Kaya, on the other hand, went all out for this match, with key players in Louie Casas, Jovin Bedic, Marwin Angeles, Marco Casembre and new signing Ryo Fujii all starting, while the likes of Eric Giganto and Arnel Armita were in standby in the Filipinos’ bench.
The Southeast Asians went on the offensive from the get-go, with Ryo going off-target with his close-ranged volley in the 7th minute. Shortly afterwards in the 13th minute, Kaya captain Bedic clipped the goalpost with his effort.
Manzi then gave Kaya the lead in the 16th minute, heading in a Daizo Horikoshi corner past Shanghai Port goalkeeper Guo Tong to give the men from Iloilo the advantage.
Stung by Manzi’s opener, Shanghai Port immediately went for the offensive and assumed control of proceedings, however Kaya locked their backline and defended resolutely.
Goalkeeper Casas pulled off an excellent save just before half-time, denying a long-ranged shot from Gao Haisheng that preserved Kaya’s advantage going into the interval.
Bedic almost made it 2-0 Kaya minutes into the second half, greeting Horikoshi’s cross with a blistering strike, however Tong was relieved to see the Kaya captain’s effort sailing over his goal.
Takayuki attempted to turn things around by introducing Huang Zhenfei and Jian Tianzi into the fray, unfortunately for Shanghai Port, Casas and the rest of the Kaya defense were on admirable duty on Wednesday. Try as the Chinese might, they were unable to break through their Filipino counterparts for an equalizer, thus allowing Kaya to advance into the ACL group stages for the first time in their history.
Kaya are drawn into Group F alongside the Leo Stadium’s original tenants BG Pathum United, defending champions Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea, and Vietnamese champions Viettel FC. The men from Iloilo will kick-off their maiden ACL campaign against hosts BGPU this Saturday.