Relentless Ceres rules Asean zonals of AFC Cup
BACOLOD CITY – Ceres Negros delivered another performance to remember when it mattered to oust Home United, 3-2, on aggregate and claim the AFC Cup Asean zonal title before a huge crowd at Panaad Stadium here.
The Busmen leaned on goals from OJ Porteria and Manny Ott in the first half, while Stephan Schrock provided the flash of inspiration at midfield as the Bacolod-based club made history by becoming the first team to claim the regional crown.
After dropping the first leg, 1-2, at Jalan Besar Stadium last Wednesday, the Busmen returned to the comforts of home needing just a 1-0 victory.
But they did just that and more as they put in a disciplined performance on defense , while relying on their class and quality up front.
Roland Muller kept a clean sheet for the first time in six matches as the Ceres backline proved equal to every Home United attack.
Twice, Muller was rescued by the crossbar, including one on Stipe Plazibat’s strike with 10 minutes remaining.
Ceres players broke down in tears as the referee blew the final whistle as Ceres’ campaign in the second tier continental competition that started in Hanoi last February rolled on with another memorable win in front of the Negrense faithful.
With the victory, Ceres advanced to the inter-zonal semifinals where it will meet Istiklol of Tajikistan in another two-leg affair. The first leg is slated Aug. 22 in Dushanbe, while the return leg is set Sept. 9 at Panaad.
“My players gave everything,” said coach Risto Vidakovic.
Energized by the home crowd, the Busmen got off to a dream start when Porteria bundled home a cross from Iain Ramsay in the second minute.
The Busmen could have wrapped up the tie as early as the first half, but Fernando Rodriguez missed a 13th minute penalty and also wasted a glorious one on one chance minutes later.
Just four minutes before the break, Ott gave the Busmen breathing room with an inch-perfect free kick that sailed into the top corner, beating the experienced Singapore international Hassan Sunny to make it 2-0.
“It wasn’t easy when you miss so many chances because when that happens, you usually lose,” said Vidakovic. “It was very hard for the players to stand up again. We could have finished the game in the first half.”
Schrock was in inspired form, putting challenges and pressing when the Busmen didn’t have possession. He showed vision and lovely feet as he instigated quick transition plays that allowed the Busmen to put Home on their heels.
“It was a very important game and I’m just honored to be given a starting place,” said Schrock, who was added to the roster for the zonal finals.
“I had to prove that I deserve to start because my teammates have been sacrificing the past six months to get us to this stage (of the competition).”
Schrock summed up the Busmen’s performance: “We left it all out there, the heart and the sweat. We put in the performance of our life in this final. We deserve to make history for the club, the country and Southeast Asia.”
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