A league for their throne | Inquirer Sports

A league for their throne

As Ceres-Negros rises to top of Southeast Asia, the country’s most successful club shines a spotlight on need for a stable national league
By: - Reporter / @cedelfptINQ
/ 05:20 AM May 12, 2019

It’s an incredible rise set against the backdrop of uncertainty and instability.

For Bacolod-based football club Ceres Negros, which recently climbed to the top of the Southeast Asian club rankings in only its seventh year, there’s no better time to reap success than this year when the national league—the gateway for clubs to make international competitions next year—hit an early bump.

There’s a growing urgency in the Ceres camp not just to reinforce their ranking, but to once again do their share in ensuring that club football in the country survives this year, after a rough start that saw the supposed reboot of the national tournament—the Philippine Premier League—suffer a quick exit due to mismanagement issues.

“We’re just hoping that there will be a league this year,” Stephan Schrock, the Ceres talisman, told the Inquirer recently.

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The Philippine Football Federation has moved to salvage the season by convening the five licensed clubs as it reverts back to the two-year-old Philippines Football League (PFL).

Two more clubs—Mendiola FC and Philippine Air Force—are looking to secure club licenses in the next couple of weeks that will signal its participation in the PFL, which is slated to start late this month.

The league has a make-or-break feel to it this year considering the clubs’ struggles to keep up with the demands of the home-and-away format.

Four clubs have already folded since the league started in 2017, including Davao Aguilas, which actually looked like it had a strong financial backing only to quit late last season.

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Amid the precarious state of club football back home, Ceres has been the torchbearer for the country in international competitions the past four years.

The Busmen have become the most successful Filipino club in AFC competitions with their AFC Cup Asian zonal title two years ago and a stirring run in the AFC Champions League qualifying in 2018. This season marks the fourth straight year the Busmen are in the knockout stage of the AFC Cup.

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“Considering the circumstances of Philippine football domestic-wise, it sounds almost unreal,” Schrock said. “But here we are and we want to enjoy this moment—but we also know with more success comes more responsibility.”

Under coach Risto Vidakovic, Ceres has never looked so potent on attack and stable defensively, rolling to five straight victories in the group stage to book a return trip to the knockout stage of the AFC Cup. Another Filipino club, Kaya-Iloilo, is also in contention for a knockout berth.

Their blistering start in the AFC Cup catapulted the Busmen to the top of the Asean rankings early this month ahead of more established and richer clubs like Buriram United of Thailand and Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia.

“Being No. 1 in Southeast Asia is a result of the hard and clever work from the owner, management and the team,” said Schrock, who credited club Leo Rey Yanson and the management team led by Nicolas Golez for their support.

The Busmen now go into the knockout stage of the AFC Cup brimming with confidence. Spanish striker Bienvenido Marañon is in sensational form with a tournament-leading nine goals, while Schrock has delivered four assists so far, including the one that Mike Ott converted in the 93rd minute that completed a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over Indonesian champion Persija Jakarta at Bung Karno Stadium.

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“I think we’re more composed in the way we play,” Schrock said. “It’s more on picking and choosing what to do with the situations. We embrace every challenge. It’s about stepping up and evolving year by year. This is just a great journey not just for us, but for Philippine football. Rankings are nice, but we have our eyes on the gold in every competition.”

TAGS: Ceres Negros, Football

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