The giant-killers turned out to be the giants after all.
Producing a superb display when the stakes were at its highest, Bacolod side Ceres nipped shorthanded Pasargad, 1-0, Saturday night to complete its sensational run to the top of the PFF Smart Club Championship at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Facing tough odds right from the start, Ceres conquered one giant after another with its clever play and inventiveness, capping its fairy tale campaign with a workmanlike performance against a stubborn PSG in a battle of unlikely finalists.
It took 56 minutes for Ceres to unlock the Pasargad defense with Korean striker Byeong Jeong-yoon, a St. La Salle student in Bacolod, firing what turned out to be the title-clinching goal after stand-in PSG keeper Ricardo Padilla failed to clear a searching ball from the left.
“It was a fairy tale that turned out to be a true story,” said Ceres team manager and former national team standout Ali Go. “We’re a champion team now.”
“This is too much for us,” said co-owner Leorey Yanson. “We just wanted to reach the semifinals, but winning is already a bonus. The players and coaches deserve this because they worked hard and showed a lot of heart.”
Pasargad missed four key players, including goalkeeper Reza Ataei, forcing the Iranian-flavored side to take a conservative approach that gave Ceres freedom to attack.
The scenario was unusual for Ceres, which was relying on swift counterattacks in the earlier rounds. Egged on by its drum-beating, yellow-clad supporters, the Bacolod side came out sharper in the second half and was deservedly rewarded by Byeong’s goal.
Byeong was later named Most Valuable Player of the championships.
“This was harder than expected because Pasargad just didn’t quit,” said Ceres’ Joshua Beloya, who was adjudged best midfielder of the tournament.
The road to the title couldn’t have been tougher for Ceres, a team made up of Koreans studying at St. La Salle and a slew of British players as well as the finest talents in Negros Occidental.
Underlining Negros Occidental’s reputation as a football powerhouse, the Bacolod side eliminated UFL Cup champion Stallion, 1-0, at Panaad on Jan. 9, before stunning UFL league champion Global via a similar scoreline in the quarterfinals.
Another UFL giant in Kaya was the next to fall to the Bacolod side in the semifinals, 1-3.
“The support for us has been tremendous,” said Go. “We have owners whose love for the team has been unconditional right from the start.”