Philippines could have three clubs playing in Asian Football Confederation competitions next year, following the AFC’s decision to allot one slot to the country in the AFC Champions League preliminary round.
Reigning United Football League champion Global FC will vie in the top club competition—the AFC Champions League—in the continent starting in January, while Ceres-La Salle will once again compete in the AFC Cup group stage.
A third Philippine club—the Loyola Meralco Sparks—could make the AFC Cup, if Global qualifies for the main draw of the Champions League, where some of the biggest clubs in Australia, Japan, China, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates see action.
The Sparks finished third in the UFL league competition this year.
It's a huge honor and a responsibility at the same time being the pioneering Philippine club in the Champions’ League,” said Global chief executive Dan Palami, who is also manager of the national men’s football team.
“It’s going to be a tough journey since we’ll have to win three games before reaching the group stages. But I’m happy for Philippine football. Having a Philippine club in the Champions League is a testament to the growth and development of the sport in the country.”
Global won’t have the luxury of time to prepare as it starts its bid against Singapore side Tampines Rovers on Jan. 24 at Rizal Memorial Stadium. The winner of the clash will travel to Australia for a Jan. 31 knockout match with A-League side Brisbane Roar. Chinese giants Shanghai Shenhua await the survivor of the game in Brisbane on Feb. 7 with the winner moving on to the main draw of the Champions League.
Wanted: Foreign players
Palami said the club is still in the process of acquiring foreign players, as the likes of Omid Nazari, Milan Nikolic and Ivan Petrovic left Global after their championship winning season last October.
If Global ends up playing in the second-tier competition, the AFC Cup, the Filipino side will be in Group F alongside Malaysian champion Johor Darul Tazim, Magwe of Myanmar and the winner between Boeung Ket Angkor of Cambodia and Lao Toyota of Laos in a playoff.
Ceres landed in Group H with Vietnam league champ Ha Noi T and T, Felda United of Malaysia and Tampines Rovers of Singapore. If Tampines makes the Champions League main draw, Geylang International will take its place in the group.