By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
PHILIPPINE side Ceres-Negros FC finds itself with some ground to cover if it is to defend its ASEAN Zonal title of the AFC Cup after being held to a 1-1 draw by Singapore’s Home United FC in the first leg of their matchup on Wednesday night at the Panaad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City.
Forced to a draw, the defending Philippines Football League champions “Busmen” must now fashion out a convincing victory in the second leg of the final next week in Singapore to be crowned ASEAN Zonal champions anew and advance to the next round of the tournament.
It is a situation that Ceres is pondering over and hoping to succeed at doing that.
The Busmen was first to the scoreboard in the first leg after Australian striker Blake Powell scored off a penalty in the eighth-minute to hand Ceres the early lead.
But the visitors found themselves leveled at 1-1 when forward Isaka Cernak scored at the 23rdminute off a rebound.
The two teams tried to seize the lead for the rest of the opening half but found themselves knotted at 1-1 at halftime.
The nip-and-tuck engagement continued at the start of the second half with both teams having their chances at getting the go-ahead.
As time wound up, Ceres tried hard to find a winner to give itself some cushion in the second leg but none would come, leaving the Bacolod team to settle for the draw.
After the game, Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic shared his assessment of their game and the difficulty they had.
“They played defensively so it was not easy to penetrate. There was no space to play. Maybe we should play more faster but it’s not easy to do so. I think we did what we can at this moment and we have another 90 minutes there so everything is open,” the coach was quoted as saying but the official Ceres website.
“We need to win there (in Singapore) and I think it will be similar to this one. I’m expecting that and I hope we recover all the players that didn’t play today and we will be stronger,” he added.
Ceres is playing without top scorer Bievenido Marañon in the Zonal final due to suspension for being sent off in a match during group play.
The second leg of the ASEAN Zonal Final of the AFC Cup is on Aug. 8 in Singapore.