By Adrian Stewart Co
Kaya Futbol Club-Iloilo advanced to the group stage of the 2021 AFC Champions League after a stunning 1-0 victory over Shanghai Port FC of China on Wednesday night at the Leo Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand.
A first half conversion from Audie Menzi was more than enough to send the Iloilo City-based football club to their first-ever AFC Champions League group stage stint.
“As a club, we’ve been in existence for 25 years, and as I said this is our first opportunity on this stage (AFC Champions League) to show Asia what we can do,” said Kaya-Iloilo head coach Graham Harvey.
Kaya-Iloilo showed some aggressiveness early with Ryo Fujii nearly surging the team ahead at the seventh minute but his try hit the crossbar. Ilonggo Jovin Bedic also had his chance five minutes later but was deflected by the defense.
Kaya-Iloilo stunned the defense at the 17th minute with Menzi connecting on a towering header from a corner kick to take a 1-0 lead. Shanghai had no answers until a late attempt in the opening half, but it was easily saved by Kaya-Iloilo keeper Louie Casas.
Kaya-Iloilo, however, got a taste of Shanghai’s physicality early in the second half with Daizo Horikoshi tackled by the defense, while Carlyle Mitchell also fell down from a hit by a Chinese player.
Kenshiro Daniels was also brought down by the defense in his goal attempt resulting in a yellow card by a Chinese player. Kaya-Iloilo’s Simone Rota was also booked later in the second half for a hard challenge on a Chinese player.
Shanghai Port became more aggressive in the final stretch of the match with multiple close range attempts but Casas calmly blocked the shots to preserve the win for Kaya-Iloilo.
With the victory, Kaya-Iloilo now joins Thailand’s BG Pathum United FC, South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai, and Vietnam’s Viettel in Group F, which will be played in Pathum Thani Stadium in Thanyaburi, Thailand.
“We’re here to entertain, we’re here to make sure we give our very best. Our team is organized and effective when we don’t have the ball, and when we do get the ball, we need to make sure that we attack and attack well,” Harvey said.
“I’ve been delighted by how the boys have responded to me as a coach. Coach Hoshi (Yu Hoshide) as well has done an excellent job to prepare the boys for this stage. I think we’re in a good spot to perform to the best of our abilities,” he added./ASC, WDJ