In a tricky encounter between the top and bottom teams in Group G of the 2017 AFC Cup, Ceres-Negros left the Panaad Park and Stadium with a hint of both relief and frustration, after they ended their second game in the continental tournament in a goalless draw with FELDA United of Malaysia.
The relief stems from the moment of elation felt by the home team after Roland Müller stopped Lucas Cano’s glorious chance from the penalty spot in the 61st minute, while the frustration is definitely a product of letting a home game slip away from their hands, with the visitors doing more than enough to hold them down.
In the opening minutes of the game, Ceres-Negros took control of the action, yet they couldn’t replicate their blazing start from their last match. Having more of the ball, the Busmen found it difficult to break down the organized FELDA United defense, and had to be alert to the Malaysian club’s counter-attacking threats.
Eventually there were chances, and the hosts came up with the first of the game through Manuel Herrera, who glanced his header wide off a corner in the 10th minute.
Then it was FELDA United’s turn to have a crack on goal, courtesy of Zah Rahan Krangar three minutes later. The FELDA United marksman managed to trick three men in yellow shirts before pumping a shot just over the bar.
It proved to be a slow-burner of a first half, as neither team created dangerous movements in their attacking third until the 26th minute, when Malaysian Muhammad Hadin bin Azman struck from the edge of the box to force a save from Ceres-Negros goalkeeper Roland Müller.
Ceres-Negros responded by making a decent attempt to break the deadlock moments later. Fernando Rodriguez got on the end of a promising attack initiated by OJ Porteria and Bienvenido Marañon down the right flank, but the Spanish striker sent his shot wide.
Two minutes after the first half hour of the game, Ceres-Negros Manager Risto Vidakovic had to make a change as Junior Muñoz picked up a knock while clearing the ball away. Martin Steuble, who is not a natural defender, came to replace his injured teammate on defense.
Back in the action, there was another chance that went begging for the team from Bacolod. Philippines international Iain Ramsay — scorer of a stunning goal eight days ago against Tampines Rovers — thought of adding to his list of magnificent goals, but to no avail, as his attempted bicycle kick inside the box heading harmlessly off target.
No goals surfaced in the first half, something that pleased FELDA United more than Ceres-Negros, especially after their coach Sathianathan Bhaskaran had expressed satisfaction with plucking a draw prior to kickoff.
After the interval, FELDA United wasted no time in testing Müller anew with a free kick from about 30 yards on target, but was it comfortably gathered by the Ceres-Negros goalkeeper.
Another free kick to the Malaysians in the 53rd minute, this time from a closer distance, was blasted over by Norshahrul Idwan Talaha. At this point of the match, the runners-up of the Malaysian Super League last season were proving to be more than a handful for Ceres-Negros to deal with.
Not keen to get themselves bullied in their own backyard, Ceres-Negros began to force FELDA United anew in the 55th minute. Kevin Ingreso unfurled a rocket of a shot which Mohd Farizal Harun did well to stop.
Committing too many players forward, the hosts were caught off-guard in the 59th minute, as a brilliant counter attack from FELDA United resulted in a penalty won by Norshahrul after he was brought down by OJ Porteria inside the box.
Fortunately for Porteria, his teammate for club and country Müller saved his blushes by parrying Cano’s spot kick shot wide for a fruitless corner. It brought the Panaad stadium crowd back to life, and their team seemed to respond well.
In the 65th minute, sharpshooter Marañon tested Harun as his curling effort was palmed away by the FELDA United goalkeeper. A minute later, Ramsay fired from distance and saw his effort soar above the goal.
Pressure was mounting for the visitors as the hosts strung up a threatening move in the 74th minute. Rodriguez teed up Ramsay inside the box, but just when the former Melbourne City player was about to meet the ball to tap it in, he lost his footing and smashed the ball wide in the process.
Approaching full time, the game was there for the taking and FELDA United striker Cano should be asking himself questions when he fumbled a shot wide off a Krangar pass in the 82nd minute.
That proved to be the last good opportunity to break the deadlock, as both teams tried but failed to send the ball into the back of the net, leading to a goalless draw.
Speaking after the game, Müller said that it was going to be difficult for them after they had won by five goals against Tampines, but he was satisfied by the outcome. “I’m really happy with a 0-0 but we know it’s not enough. Hopefully next time [we’ll do better],” the Filipino goalkeeper stated.
The 2016 UFL runners-up remain on top of Group G ,but just on goal difference after Hanoi FC went level on points with Ceres-Negros through a 4-0 thrashing of Tampines Rovers earlier today. FELDA United, now with two points on the board, are still at the bottom but are only just a point behind the Singaporeans who are in third.
Both teams will face each other again in Malaysia on the fourth of April at the Shah Alam Stadium in Selangor, Malaysia.