By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

TOP local clubs Ceres-Negros FC and Kaya FC-Iloilo begin their AFC Cup 2020 campaigns next week, looking to make a solid run in the tournament.

Ceres, the three-time Philippines Football League champion, and Kaya, the Copa Paulino Alcantara champ in 2018, are lumped in Group G and H, respectively, where they hope to emerge on top of their groupings to earn an outright spot in the ASEAN Zonal Semifinals.

The “Busmen” are coming off a strong push in the AFC Champions League where it came just a win away from advancing to the main draw of the premier club tournament in Asia organized by the Asian Football Confederation.

In this year’s edition of the AFC Cup, Ceres is grouped alongside fellow ASEAN clubs Than Quang Ninh FC (Vietnam), Bali United FC (Indonesia) and Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC (Cambodia).

It first takes on Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC on Feb. 11 in a home game set at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

While they fell in their quest in the Champions League, the Busmen said it gave them a lot of experience and enhanced their confidence, something they intent on using as they play in the AFC Cup.

In last year’s edition of the tournament, Ceres advanced to the ASEAN semifinals before losing to Ha Noi FC of Vietnam, 3-2.

The year prior, it was able to reach the ASEAN finals but lost to Home United FC of Singapore, 3-1, and in 2017, it was the AZEAN Zonal champion and advanced to the Inter-zone semifinals.

Kaya, for its part, makes a return trip to the tournament after competing last year, where it failed to get out of group play, finishing with a 2-2-2 record, good for third in its grouping.

In the about-to-start competition, Kaya is joined by Tampines Rovers (Singapore), Shan United (Myanmar) and PSM Makassar (Indonesia).

Kaya will battle Shan United in its first game away on Feb. 12 in Myanmar.

“It’s a tough group again as usual. We go back to Indonesia, we visit Myanmar, and Singapore,” Kaya’s Aly Borromeo said after the official draw for the tournament in December.

To help it in its campaign, the team added new players to its core, with the likes of Roberto Corsame Jr., Carlyle Mitchell of Trinidad & Tobago, and Japanese Daizo Horikoshi now in its fold.

Other ASEAN clubs seeing action in the AFC Cup are Ho Chi Minh City FC (Vietnam), Yangon United (Myanmar), Hougang United (Singapore) and Lao Toyota FC (Laos) in Group F.