AFC Cup: Muller shines as Ceres keeps lead
BACOLOD CITY – Filipino side Ceres-Negros earned a precious point after a goalless draw with Malaysian club Felda United in their AFC Cup clash at Panaad Stadium here.
Playing before a crowd of close to 9,000 on a rainy Wednesday night, the Busmen needed a spectacular save from goalkeeper Roland Muller on Argentine striker Lucas Cano’s penalty in the second half to keep a clean sheet and salvage a point that could go a long way in their hopes of qualifying for the Asean zone semifinals.
Signed late last season, the Fil-German goalkeeper rose to the challenge, denying Cano’s low effort in the 61st minute, after OJ Porteria fouled Felda striker Norshahrul Talaha inside the box. Muller’s save spared the home side’s blushes as the visitors gamely fought their way for a point here.
Even with Hanoi beating Singapore’s Tampines Rovers, 4-0, in the Vietnamese capital earlier, Ceres remained on top of what is turning out to be a tight Group G with five points, ahead of Hanoi on goal difference.
Felda, which has two points from three games is rooted at the bottom of the group, with Tampines in third with three points.
The Busmen overwhelmed Tampines, 5-0, at home last week, raising expectations of another goalfest since Felda had lost to the Singapore side, 1-2, on Matchday One.
“Like I said before the game, all the teams are strong in this group and just because we won the last game 5-0 and they (Felda) lost against Tampines that we were going to win easily,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic. “Maybe they (Felda) even deserved to win, but 0-0 is a good result for us tonight.”
Muller said they weren’t surprised of Felda’s quality. “Felda is really a strong team,” said Muller. “It wasn’t a surprise for us that they played really well. It’s a good result for us.”
It took the Busmen 10 minutes to manufacture their first chance through Spanish defender Manuel Herrera, who sent his free header off Manny Ott’s delivery wide.
Liberian midfielder Zah Kranger got Felda’s first chance three minutes later, but his shot from a tight angle was just over the bar. The Busmen struggled to get their passing game going, while Felda grew in confidence.
Muller had to be alert to keep out Hadin’s effort in the 27th minute, but Ceres lost rightback Junior Munoz five minutes later to an injury with coach Risto Vidakovic forced to put in Martin Steuble.
The second half started the same way as the first ended with Felda once again threatening with Kranger earning a free kick from edge of the area which Norshahrul sent over the bar. Ceres did manage a couple of long-range efforts from Kevin Ingreso, before Norshahrul won the penalty.
Ceres’ best chance came in the 74th minute when Iain Ramsay met Fernando Rodriguez’s low cross inside the area only to direct his shot off target. The two teams meet again on April 5 at Shah Alam Stadium just outside Kuala Lumpur with Ceres expected to miss midfielder Manny Ott due to suspension after picking up a second yellow card in the competition.