End of the road for Ceres in AFC Cup
BACOLOD CITY – Ceres Negros’ historic AFC Cup run came to an end last Tuesday night at the hands of a big, strong and organized side from Central Asia.
Facing a deficit that even the strongest teams can’t overcome, the Busmen were knocked out of the competition after a 1-1 draw with Istiklol of Tajikistan in the second leg of the inter zone semifinals at Panaad Stadium here.
A 0-4 loss away in Dushanbe three weeks ago meant the Busmen fell 1-5 on aggregate and sent Istiklol to the inter zone finals where it will face either Bengaluru of India or 4.25 of North Korea.
Returning from suspension, Spanish defender Super Herrera gave Ceres a glimmer of hope with a header off a corner in the 34th minute. But Dimitri Barkov pulled a goal back for the visitors just before the break, leaving the Busmen with an even tougher climb.
Still, it was an impressive run for the Busmen after they survived a tough group stage and ousted former champion Johor Darul Ta’zim in the Asean zonal semifinals.
The Busmen became the ASEAN representatives in the inter zonal semifinals after stunning Home United of Singapore in the zonal finals. It also meant that the Busmen were one of the six teams remaining in the competition that initially started with 52 clubs from 29 countries.
“Emotions are empty,” said midfielder Stephan Schrock. “We left it all there on the pitch. It was a good game from us with the 1-1 but we knew after the 4-0 in Dushanbe that it was going to be tough. We needed a miracle.”
The Busmen set out with a more attack minded formation with coach Risto Vidakovic going with three at the back. The home side still enjoyed plenty of possession but hardly created a clear cut chance early on.
Herrera found the breakthrough off a corner from Manny Ott, but Istiklol also looked threatening with Roland Muller needing to produce some fine saves to keep the Busmen in the tie.
Barkov snuffed the life out of the comeback with an instinctive strike inside the box just before the halftime whistle.
“I’m sad and disappointed,” said Schrock. “But we showed that we deserved to be in this competition.”
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