Ceres-La Salle becomes first PH side to reach AFC Cup knockout stage
Reigning UFL champion Ceres La Salle made history Tuesday night when it became the first Filipino side to reach the knockout stage of the AFC Cup after a scoreless draw with Selangor of Malaysian their Group E clash at Selayang Municipal Stadium.
Just like their first meeting last February that ended in a 2-2 stalemate at Panaad Stadium, there was little to separate the two teams as it failed to cash in on their chances particularly in the second half when the match finally came to life.
The result boosted the Bacolod-based side’s tally to nine points from five matches, one ahead of Selangor and two clear off Tampines Rovers of Singapore who absorbed a stunning 2-3 away defeat to Bangladesh’s Sheikh Jamal in Dhaka.
“I salute the boys,” said Ceres coach Frank Muescan. “They gave everything. The determination was there. We’re very very happy. It’s a historic event for Philippine football.”
Muescan added: “We prepared hard for the tournament. We didn’t stop and we didn’t relax. We’re on this stage that our hard work is paying off. I’m proud of the players and management. We will finish this group strong. We’re going to bring an exciting match on May 10.”
Ceres can top the group with a win over Sheikh Jamal at Panaad Stadium on May 10. The winner of the group gets homefield advantage in the one-game playoff for a place in the quarterfinals.
Spanish striker Adrian Gallardo wasted Ceres’ best chance of the game in the 49th minute as he fired wide from just inside the box after a flick on from Stephan Schrock. Defender Jason Sabio also sent a header over after Selangor failed to deal with Manny Ott’s low delivery off a corner kick.
There would have been two Filipino teams in the knockout stage by the end of Matchday five but Kaya failed to advance in its first try, suffering a 0-1 defeat to Hong Kong powerhouse Kitchee in their Group F clash at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Lacking the cutting edge to break down a disciplined Kitchee side, Kaya lost for the first time in four matches in the second-tier continental competition.
Kaya, which did not concede a goal for 376 minutes until Haruma Hirokane scored, remained in the hunt for a place in the Round of 16, although nailing top spot and a home field advantage in the next round is already out of its hands.
A win against New Radiant of Maldives in Male on May 10 will seal Kaya’s berth to the knockout phase, but a loss or a draw by Kitchee against Balestier Khalsa on the same day will give the Filipino side the top seeding heading into the next round.
“We have nothing to worry about,” said Kaya coach Joel Villarino. “We have nine points and we can still make the next round which is our target, but we have to continue learning from our mistakes. We were up against a very experienced team today and we got a bit unlucky with the goal (they scored).”
OJ Porteria blew Kaya’s best chance in the 53rd minute when his snapshot from close range was palmed away by Wang, who also went full stretch to deny a curling effort from Joven Bedic on the hour mark.
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