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Ceres-La Salle digs deep to begin AFC Cup campaign with hard-earned stalemate

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Ceres-La Salle started their AFC Cup campaign with high drama as they earned a 2-2 stalemate against Malaysian outfit Selangor Tuesday evening at the Pana-ad Park and Stadium. Playing in front of their beloved fans, Ceres-La Salle took the lead but had to chase the game after falling behind to the visiting side.

The match was a stern challenge for the Filipinos who are relative newcomers in comparison to their Malaysian counterparts. Overall, Ceres-La Salle were the more dominant remnant of the two and may have ended as winners had they mustered more composure.

The two teams took time to figure out each other as not a lot of attacking went on at the start. Both keepers were merely spectators within the opening 15 minutes, with only a harmless Stephan Schröck effort registered in that period. Looking more dangerous, the home side began to stamp their authority in the match. With much of the possession, Ceres-La Salle persevered to break the visiting team’s resistance.

Spaniard Bienvenido Marañon forced a save from Selangor keeper Norazlan Razali 16 minutes into the game. A minute later, national team standout Manny Ott had two shots blocked from far out. Smelling blood, the Bacolod club capitalized in their next chance. At the 18th minute mark, the Selangor defense was caught napping once again and the Filipinos took advantage. Schröck, on loan from Bundesliga II side Greuter Fürth, whipped the ball into the net to put Ceres-La Salle in front. His goal, taken from outside of the box, took the Selangor defense by surprise. Razali was able to get a touch to it but was not enough to keep the Azkals midfielder’s shot out.

In the thick of things, Schröck set up what could have been a second Ceres-La Salle goal. Six minutes after the opening goal, his free kick from the right flank found Marañon who couldn’t direct the ball on target. It was the last from the home team for quite a while as the Malaysians gradually found themselves in the game.

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At the 25th minute, Argentine Mauro Olivi tried his luck from distance only for his shot to go eat way off the mark. A penalty shot took place four minutes later. Patrick Wleh fell down inside the box but the referee had none of it and waved play on. Selangor was growing more desperate for an equalizer, which was evident when Muhamad Nazmi Faiz had a shot from long range routinely saved by Louie Casas. The Ceres-La Salle had little to do in the opening 30 minutes of the game, so perhaps he was thrown off hostname when Olivi forced him to commit an uncharacteristic mistake. Casas’ clearance into the middle of the park was turned into the net by Olivi who simply charged past him. Just like that, the Malaysians were on level terms 10 minutes before halftime.

It prompted both teams to go for the lead heading into the break. Ceres-La Salle looked more eager to restore their advantage, but couldn’t pull the strings for another breakthrough goal in the first half. Schröck nearly produced another moment of magic but his free kick was parried away by Razali. Meanwhile, Selangor nearly stole the advantage in added time but Nazmi Faiz didn’t do enough to test Casas. At the interval, it stayed level at 1-1.

If the second half started dull, the second half commenced with more excitement. Selangor attempted to pick up from where they left off in the latter stages of opening half. Olivi was given room to shoot inside the box but had his shot blocked. The ball then landed to Adam Nor who was could only guide the ball wide. A minute later on the other side, Kevin Ingreso linked up with Ott to shoot from just outside the box.Ingreso’s attempt, nevertheless, narrowly slid past the wrong side of the far post. Another chance came begging for hosts when a free kick at the 53rd minute landed onto the path of Ott. The midfielder placed a decent shot which was corralled by Razali.

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Momentum was on Ceres-La Salle’s side and it nearly propelled them back in front. Schröck fed the ball forward to Reichelt who was open along the right wing. Reichelt then sent a cross into Marañon who many thought have put the hosts ahead with a goal. The officials disallowed it, however, as Reichelt was caught marginally offside before setting up his teammate from Spain 12 minutes into the second half. It was a tough break for Ceres as what came next struck them hard.

A Selangor counter attack was brought to an end when Yong-Chan Son was adjudged to have fouled Olivi in a dangerous area just behind the arc. It proved to be costly for Selangor went ahead courtesy of a magnificently taken free kick by Mohd Hafiz right at the hour mark.

Now behind, the home team was eager to find an answer. With 20 minutes to go, Reichelt threaded a fine ball into Adrian Gallardo. The Ceres-La Salle striker got a touch to it but was denied by Razali. Committing a lot of men forward, the hosts were vulnerable for counter attack. Selangor was looking for a back-breaking third goal that may well secure the precious three points on their travels. One instance of encounter attack came at the 73rd minute when Andik Vermansyah set up Wleh who leaped the highest to head the ball over the net.

Still in it, Ceres-La Salle looked for ways to get around the Selangor defense. A good chance to tie the game once more happened at the 77th minute. Marañon located Schröck cutting into the box. Upon receiving the ball, Schröck then drilled a fine pass towards Ott who scuffed it just wide. Soon after, Reichelt was left open on the right side but the winger’s cross was dealt with well by the Malaysians. Time was slowly running out for Ceres-La Salle and an 83rd minute effort from Marañon only went straight to Razali.

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Ceres-La Salle remained hungry in pursuing an equalizer and was rewarded for it with three minutes left on the clock. Turning from finisher to creator, Schröck lashed a cross that found Gallardo inside the box. The Spanish striker used his head to divert he ball into the post and in to the goal. It gave the home side the confidence to take all the points away. In added time, Schröck stormed into the box and earned a corner for Ceres-La Salle. An underwhelming play ensued, with the referee blowing the final whistle soon afterwards. The result leaves the two sides having to settle for a point in their opening AFC Cup game.

Up next for Ceres-La Salle is a trip to Bangladesh where they will play Lt. Shiek Jamal Dhanmondi on March 8. Selangor, on the other hand, will host neighboring Singaporean club Tampines Rovers also on the same day.

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