EARLY FAVORITE Kaya FC Iloilo found its way into Group G of the 2022 AFC Cup set to begin this June. The 2021 Copa Paulino Alcantara winners found themselves in the company of Bali United of Indonesia, Kedah Darul Aman of Malaysia and the winner between Visakha of Cambodia and Young Elephants of Laos.
This marks the Philippines’ return to the competition after regular entries Kaya and United City FC made it all the way to the 2021 AFC Champions League group stage. Sadly, the entire 2021 AFC Cup ASEAN Zone was cancelled thus leaving the region with no representatives in the playoffs.
However, Kaya will have a shot at returning to the ACL when it plays a still to be determined Australian club on March 8 and if successful, to be followed by a final match with Changchung Yatai of China for the fourth and last slot in Group H for the right to join Jeonbuk Hyundai of South Korea, Yokohoma F Marinos of Japan and Hoang Anh Gia Lai of Vietnam.
Should Kaya advance, Group G will be down to only three clubs as there will be no standby Filipino club. Copa runner-up Azkals Development Team is not qualified to participate being a developmental squad for the national team.
Just like the ACL, this year’s AFC Cup will be contested in centralized venues. A big change from the last time Kaya played is that the group stage will be down to a single round robin or three matches each compared to the double round or six matches each back in 2020.
Kaya has been hit by player departures with the likes of Dylan de Bruycker, Marco Casambre and Marwin Angeles taking their talents to other ASEAN leagues. The club is expected to announce their new signings soon.