Villaflor: Will Ceres’ Asean reign end tonight?

IN THE first leg of the AFC Cup 2018 its Asean Zonal Final, it was Home United FC that felt comfortable playing away against defending champions Ceres-Negros FC at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod.

After an exchange of goals early on, Home United only had to park the bus most of the match, and wait for Ceres to make a mistake before stepping on the gas and rattle the hosts, disrupt their plays, and deny them of a win.

Home was content to have less than a third of possession the entire match but their gameplan was enough to snatch a draw with a crucial away goal as they head back to Singapore.

Tonight, both clubs will meet anew for the second leg at 7:30 p.m. at Jalan Besar Stadium. The Singaporeans definitely have more than the advantage of playing at home: they know the visitors all too well, how to methodically defeat Ceres, or eke out a draw at least, the way they did during the group stage when they drew Ceres 1-1 in Singapore last February, then stun the Busmen 2-0 before a bewildered Bacolod crowd last April to win Group F.

The first leg of the final last August 1 was a familiar story, never mind if Ceres had new faces and the glaring absence of star striker Bienvenido Marañon who has been suspended in both legs for abusive behavior he committed in the semifinal.

The problem with Ceres is that its game has become all too predictable for the Singaporeans to exploit. Take for instance aerial duels -- Ceres used to dominate this area, winning the ball almost two-thirds of the time in their first two matches, but in their last encounter in Panaad, Home won as many balls in the air as Ceres did.

But the most telling statistic is when it comes to interceptions. In the group stage, Home had more interceptions -- 8 to 5 in both meetings -- but this advantage wasn’t surprising for a counter-attacking side. But last Wednesday, Home snatched the ball from Ceres 23 times and lost it in only eight instances. Home had read the hosts well.

Ceres simply lacked creativity. Allowing their opponents to take as many aimless shots as they can, Home knew when and where to kill a Ceres attack and counter with purpose. The Singaporeans’ only fault was that they couldn’t finish as well.

Tonight, there is no Marañon, the tournament’s top scorer with 10 goals, to save Ceres. Home only has to perform smart and play dull to dethrone Ceres as Asean Zonal champions.


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