Ceres-La Salle, Kaya FC set to fly flag for Philippines in AFC Cup next year

CERES-LA Salle and Kaya FC are set to compete in the Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC) next year, marking the first time two teams will represent the country in the group stage of the second-tier club competition in the continent.

While Ceres booked an automatic ticket after ruling United Football League, Kaya, the UFL Cup titlist, gained a surprise outright entry due to suspensions and some countries declining to send teams.

Global represented the country last year, making history as the first Philippine club to win a match in the tournament just a rung behind the AFC Champions League.

Ceres, which barely missed a spot in the main tournament after losing in a playoff in the last edition, has been drawn in Group E with Malaysia’s Selangor, Lt. Sheikh Jhamal Dhanmodi of Bangladesh, and one Singaporean club - either the Tampines Rovers or Warriors FC.

Kaya, on the other hand, has been bracketed in a tougher Group F that features Kitchee of Hong Kong, Singapore’s Balestier Khalsa, and New Radiant of Maldives in the draw on Thursday night in Kuala Lumpur.

Still, the LBC-backed squad is gunning for no less than a spot in the knockout stage right in its rookie campaign.

“We are the newcomers, but we aren’t just happy to participate,” said Kaya manager Paul Tolentino, who will draw strength from Azkals OJ Porteria and Kenshiro Daniels, among others.

Only the top two clubs from each group will advance to the Round of 16 of the competition that only allows three foreigners per squad, forcing Ceres and Kaya to make adjustments to their respective rosters.

The two Philippine clubs, though, will each have four home matches, with Ceres using the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod and Kaya looking at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

“The home games will be a big help especially if the crowd will be there,” said Ceres coach Ali Go, who will lean on a powerhouse lineup filled with national team stars led by Manny Ott and Patrick Reichelt.

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