Ceres rides late penalty to AFC Cup history
BACOLOD CITY—Spanish striker Fernando Rodriguez grew up in the province of Pilas in Seville, Spain, and until early this year, hardly even heard about Bacolod City, the city he now represents as a player for Ceres-Negros.
But as fate would have it, the 30-year-old Rodriguez cemented himself as a legend in this football-loving city after converting a stoppage time penalty that propelled the Busmen past Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), 2-1, last Wednesday night in the AFC Cup Asean zone semifinals at Panaad Stadium here.
Signed last January as the club revitalized its push for glory in the continental competition, Rodriguez calmly beat JDT goalkeeper Farizal Marlias in the third minute of injury time as the Busmen completed a stunning upset over the 2015 AFC Cup champions.
“I was confident,” said Rodriguez. “I thought about my family and it helped calm myself down.”
Rodriguez’s goal made it 4-4 on aggregate, counting the 2-3 scoreline in the first leg, but the Busmen advanced to face Home United of Singapore in the zonal finals due to the away goals rule.
Considering that JDT was also a semifinalist in the AFC Cup in 2016, the victory is the biggest yet for the young club, which didn’t even qualify for the tournament in 2015.
There was plenty of controversy surrounding the foul of defender Aidil Zafuan on Rodriguez.
JDT’s Mexican coach Benjamin Mora refused to be drawn into the debate on Chinese referee Fu Ming’s call. “It is a penalty because the referee saw it as a penalty,” said Mora.
Japanese defender Kota Kawase stabbed home a Kevin Ingreso free kick in the 26th minute to put Ceres on top, but Argentine striker Gabriel Guerra levelled for the visitors in the 65th minute, rifling home a shot from a tight angle just inside the box.
But just when it looked like the Busmen were headed for a heartbreaking exit, Ceres was awarded a penalty after Zafuan pulled back Rodriguez while attacking on a corner. The visitors’ frustrations boiled over with Farizal losing his cool after he was sent off. The JDT player even shoved match officials as he left the pitch.