Ceres-Negros hosts powerhouse Singaporean side at Panaad
BACOLOD CITY—Newly-minted Philippines Football League champion Ceres-Negros seeks to grab the early advantage in the AFC Cup Asean zone final as it hosts Singaporean powerhouse Home United in the first leg Wednesday at Panaad Stadium.
The rematch of last year’s Asean final won by the Bacolod-based side kicks off at 7 p.m. with the Busmen missing top scorer Bienvenido Marañon due to suspension following a red card in the second leg of the semifinals against Yangon United of Myanmar.
For all of its impressive performances in the AFC Cup this year, however, the Busmen have struggled against the Singaporeans, whom they beat, 3-2, in over two legs in the final last year.
Coach Risto Vidakovic isn’t about to deviate from his team’s philosophy despite their inability to beat Home this year. The two clubs battled to a 1-1 draw in Singapore in the group stage, before Home beat Ceres, 2-0, at Panaad in the return leg last April.
“I think they (Home) will play the same way so we’ll have to try and play our own brand of football,” said Vidakovic, whose team averaged 66 percent possession and created 15 chances per outing in the lead up to the final. “It’s a new game and a very important game. For us, its a historic game and we want to repeat history [by winning the final].”
The second leg is set on Aug. 8 at Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore. The winner on aggregate will advance to the inter-zone semifinals against North Korea on April 25.
Marañon’s absence will be a huge blow for the Busmen after he scored a tournament-leading 10 goals in the group and knockout stages, but Home will also miss top scorer Song Ui-young due to an injury.
The Busmen retooled its squad in anticipation of a deeper run in the competition, adding Australian striker Blake Powell, national team players Curt Dizon and Paul Mulders, as well as goalkeeper Roland Muller and defender Jerry Barbaso. Manny Ott has also recovered from an eye socket surgery, while Patrick Reichelt, Omid Nazari and Mike Ott are in fine form.
“Bienve is a big loss for us but I think the way our system is built, it’s not very much dependent on a single player,” said captain Martin Steuble.
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