I’M WRITING this piece hours before the AFC Champions League qualifying match between the Ceres Negros FC and the Myanmar’s Shan United at the newly renovated Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Last night’s encounter serves as the first preliminary round of the qualifying playoffs, and whoever wins advances to another preliminary round to determine who makes it to the playoff round.
The eight playoff winners then will join the 24 direct participants of the tournament in the Group Stage.
The Philippines lone representative to the Champions League prelims, Ceres, is expected to win against Shan.
But even if it did advance to the second round, it’s still a long way to the Group Stage of Asia’s premier club tournament.
A win, though, would be an improvement to their performance in last year’s Champions League first round prelims, in which Ceres crashed out at the hands of another Burmese team, Yangon United, on home soil.
It was a shock exit, so Ceres must have taken all precautions to avoid a repeat of last year’s disappointment.
The Negros-based Ceres remains the most decorated club in the country, and arguably the most talented.
In its AFC Club Rankings, a football website even ranks Ceres 32nd among 162 teams in 2019.
Its first team lineup boasts of current and former national team players led by captain Stephan Schrock.
Beginning with its Champions League journey, the team will have its hands full in 2020.
Next month, it will start its campaign in the Group Stage of the AFC Cup, the continent’s secondary club tournament.
March will see Ceres defending its title in the new season of the Philippines Football League, which has secured a huge sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways.
To challenge Ceres are Kaya-Iloilo, Mendiola FC, Philippine Air Force FC, Stallion Laguna, the once great Global Makati, and the promising Philippines Under-23 squad.
With a busy and exciting 2020 calendar ahead, hopefully, Philippine football got off to a good start last night with a Ceres win.