CERES-NEGROS FC’s riveting 1-0 escape over a relentless Port FC side in the AFC Champions League prelims last Tuesday meant more than just a win.
The favorable result showed anew the true caliber of the Philippine champions, and by extension, the potential of the domestic league of becoming one of the primary leagues, at least, in Southeast Asia.
But let as leave the latter prospects for next time and get back to Tuesday’s massive feat for now.
Watching the game via livestream on a smartphone with weak wifi meant I had to guess where the ball was -- yes, like that meme game -- half of the time.
And yet for for 90 minutes, I was riveted to my tiny screen that streamed a match whose scoreline belied the excitement on the pitch of PAT Stadium in Bangkok.
Ceres manager Risto Vidakovic’s men looked the more dangerous of the two sides early in the match, creating two near-goals inside the box if not for the heroics of the Port goalkeeper.
Just as Port was taking control of the match, Stephan Schrock scored that curling wonder strike off a short OJ Porteria pass from a corner at the 51st minute.
Not surprisingly, Ceres parked the bus in front of the goal, prompting Port FC to launch a desperate assault, dominating possession and creating chance after chance, to no avail.
It was during these last 40 minutes of the match wherein Ceres displayed, in front of a vociferous Thai crowd of 6,200 plus, the wealth of experience it had gathered over the close to a dozen competitive matches it had played on foreign soil.
The composed, quick-witted Busmen kept their shape and form, while not forcing the counter to avoid overextending themselves and tiring out.
Knowing the significance of the match, the Busmen also defended as though their lives depended on it.
In contrast, the hungry hosts, which haven’t played a competitive match against a foreign team for close to a decade, just couldn’t find the back of the net.
Port FC made at least eight shots on goal but only one was on target, a would-have-been late equalizer if not for a well-positioned Taka Odawara who cleared the ball away from danger.
Moments later, the visitors nearly doubled the lead in a three against one breakaway, no thanks to the Port goalkeeper who extended a leg and an arm just enough to deflect Schrock’s point blank shot.
While Schrock would rue what would have been an easy goal for a brace, 1-0 was enough for Ceres to advance to the Champions League qualifying play-offs.
As reward for the Busmen’s gutsy feat is a one-off encounter with J1 League’s second-best team FC Tokyo in yet another away match, this time in Ajinomoto Stadium in Japan’s capital on Jan. 28.
While I knew that the experienced Busmen had a good chance against the Thais, the play-off against FC Tokyo will be a far more demanding encounter for the Philippine champions.
January 23, 2020
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