Ceres tops Group G, reaches AFC Cup knockout round
SINGAPORE — The Busmen of Ceres-Negros are on track in their “Road to Redemption,” emerging as the best club in the toughest Asean group of the AFC Cup.
The Bacolod-based side rolled past Tampines Rovers of Singapore, 4-2, on Wednesday night to top Group G and reach the knockout round for the second straight year in Asia’s second-tier club competition.
Spanish midfielder Bienvenido Maranon bagged a brace, while compatriot Fernando Rodriguez and Japanese defender Kota Kawase were also on target for the Busmen at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Fazli Bin Ayob twice cut the deficit to a single goal, but the Busmen responded to the challenge each time as Ceres finished its group campaign in style.
The Busmen proved ruthless in punishing Tampines for its defensive frailties, sweeping the S-League side in two meetings in the competition. Ceres finished with 11 points, the same number as Hanoi, which beat Felda, 4-1, at home. But the Busmen topped the group because of a better head-to-head record with the Vietnamese side, owing to their 6-2 win at Panaad Stadium last April 19.
“I’m proud of the players because getting out of this group wasn’t easy,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic. “We had to attack because any other result would not have been enough. We have to enjoy this. Its a big result for the club.”
Ceres will face Johor Dairul Tazim of Malaysia in the Asean zonal semifinals after the Malaysian champions finished as the best second placed team. JDT ended up second in Group F, behind another Philippines Football League side, Global Cebu.
The Busmen got off to a dream start with Maranon opening the scoring in the sixth minute, heading home a cross from OJ Porteria.
Maranon got his second goal came in the 23rd minute, firing into an empty net after Manny Ott, intercepted a pass at midfield before drawing out Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
Tampines pulled a goal back two minutes later with Yasir Hanapi capitalizing on some poor defending, but the Stags were reduced to 10 men in the 27th minute after Shakir Hamzah was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Rodriguez.
Rodriguez restored the two-goal advantage from the penalty spot at the stroke of halftime after a handball on Muhammad Jufri Taha.
For all their dominance on the ball, the Busmen still conceded to the home side with Yasir scoring from the spot at the hour mark, after Junior Munoz fouled substitute Khairul Amri inside the box.
But Kawase calmed the Busmen’s nerves six minutes later with a glancing header off a Kevin Ingreso corner to punctuate the comprehensive win.
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