Busmen still PFL kings
Relentless right from the start, Ceres-Negros clinched back-to-back Philippines Football League (PFL) titles with three games to spare after whipping Global Cebu, 6-1, on Wednesday night at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
The Busmen flashed their newfound depth with Spanish striker Bienvenido Marañon firing a hat trick, while Omid Nazari, Mike Ott and new signing Blake Powell also found the back of the net in another dominant performance.
The win pushed Ceres to 54 points from 22 matches this season, giving the Busmen an unassailable 21-point lead over second placer Kaya-Iloilo.
With each team playing 25 matches this season, the victory meant the Iloilo club won’t have enough matches to catch up with the Negros-based team.
More than securing the crown, the Busmen also captured a playoff spot in the prestigious Asian Football Confederation Champions League next year.
“This wasn’t an easy year,” said defender Carlie De Murga. “We didn’t have pre-season because we played right away in the Champions League. And it seemed like we were always playing three matches in eight days. But we persevered and sacrificed to reach our goal.”
The victory also augured well for the Busmen as it comes a week before they take on Home United in the AFC Cup Asean zonal final in Bacolod and in Singapore.
“We wanted to get the pressure from winning the PFL out of the way before we play Home United,” said De Murga. “I think being the best club in the Philippines gives us that confidence going into the (Asean zone) final.”
The match also marked the return of goalkeeper Roland Muller to the squad, even as coach Risto Vidakovic gave another new signing, Jerry Barbaso, a start against his former team.
The Busmen snuffed out hopes of an upset in the first half with Marañon knocking in the opening goal in the 29th minute, before Ott rifled home a shot from outside the box seven minutes later.
Nazari’s rocket from the edge of the area capped a solid display for the Busmen, who won the league last year via a one-game playoff against Global following a quadruple round classification phase.
What made the march to the title even more remarkable for the Ceres was the fact that it has been playing almost every week since January when the Busmen started their journey in the AFC Champions League qualifying where they beat Brisbane Roar.
The Bacolod-based side is still on track for two more trophies with the PFL’s second tournament of the year, the Copa Paulino Alcantara, while a win over Home United will also give Ceres back-to-back AFC Cup crowns.
But coach Risto Vidakovic doesn’t want the Busmen to get ahead of themselves.
“Of course, we want to celebrate this win, but our season is not yet finished,” said the Serbian coach. “We still want to make more history this year.”
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