Ceres-Negros FC left the My Dinh Stadium last night in Hanoi, Vietnam, with a share of the spoils as the Western Visayas club held on to a 1-1 draw against Hanoi FC in the opening game of their 2017 AFC Cup campaign.
In what was a cagey affair, there weren’t too many chances in the opening stages of the game. Neither team managed to sustain an attacking rhythm, as both sets of players saw their attacking surges fizzle out due to loose passing once in the attacking third.
As the game progressed, it was the Vietnamese team who dictated the tempo of the game. It became apparent when Roland Müller was busier than his counterpart Phi Minh Long midway through the first half.
The Azkals goalkeeper, who still had little to do in the game, may have to consider himself a bit lucky in the 28th minute as a well-executed set piece had Nguyen Van Dung nearly giving his team the lead they perhaps deserved, if not for his headed shot hitting the post and rebounding into the six-yard box. Müller, to his relief, caught the ball before any player in blue beat him to it.
Van Dung’s agonizing miss looked to have worked wonders, as it brought life to what was an otherwise dull affair prior to it. Shortly after that moment, Ceres-Negros won a free kick inside Hanoi’s half. Yet unlike the hosts, they weren’t able to make something similar out of the free kick when Manny Ott floated it way over the bar.
Approaching halftime, the hosts came the closest in drawing first blood. With too many Ceres-Negros committing in a poorly executed free kick, the home team notably surged forward to launch a well-coordinated counterattack that ended quite terribly.
It took place in the 42nd minute, when skipper Gonzalo Marronkle settled for an acrobatic shot that proved to be too flamboyant for Hanoi to seize the lead. Given time and space, the Argentine’s strike was blocked by Jeffrey Christiaens, who was afforded a second more to read the Hanoi FC player’s intentions.
Having played the majority of the first half on the back foot, Ceres-Negros switched the gear up in the second half. They piled pressure on Hanoi, a move that quickly paid dividends in the 49th minute.
Manuel Herrera’s header off a corner was initially blocked by his teammate Bienve Marañon inside the six-yard box. The unfortunate touch turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Marañon’s accidental first touch wrong-footed Minh Long, inviting Marañon to a second touch that steered the ball into the goal.
Marañon’s goal put Ceres on top but not for long — around eight minutes to be more specific — as the Vietnamese team got themselves back on level terms three minutes before the hour mark.
Sustaining pressure, Hanoi got their much-deserved goal when a poor clearance of Arnaud’s attempt came in front of Van Quyet in a dangerous area just outside the six-yard box. The Vietnamese striker then pulled the trigger in style, setting himself up nicely for a bicycle kick to whip the ball past the helpless Müller.
Entering the last half-hour of the game level, the momentum was clearly with Hanoi. They played more with possession, reverting to tactics they had employed earlier in the game.
Moving more confidently, the home team looked like they would add to their lead in the 68th minute. A patient build up involving Arnaud and Van Quyet ended with a Marronkle strike inside the box just deflected out.
Having less of the ball, the visitors sought to expose the Hanoi defense who at times went forward to recycle possession inside their half. Yet it didn’t turn out as planned, as Ceres-Negros often lacked the personnel and passing accuracy needed to pose a threat to the Vietnamese team.
Near full time, the hosts almost completed the comeback, but Carli de Murga’s decisively intervened on Marronkle’s brilliant header with just a minute left in normal time. That was the closest anyone came in breaking the deadlock. In the end, there was nothing to separate profligate Hanoi and scrappy Ceres-Negros.
With the result, both teams are two points behind Tampines Rovers in Group G. The Singaporean club emerged victorious, 2-1, in their home encounter against their Malaysian counterparts FELDA United.
Ceres-Negros will entertain Tampines Rovers in Bacolod come Matchday 2. At the same time, Hanoi FC will pay a visit to Malaysia where they will square off against FELDA United. Both games will be played on March 7.