Tomorrow Asia, today the Philippines.
Borrowed from a Spanish slogan during the 20th Century Civil War, the phrase actually bears little similarity in context, but is perhaps what has been running in the minds of Ceres-La Salle FC from the start of the season. They conquered the United Football League in their first appearance in top-flight football, taking 14 wins out of 16 matches. As a result, they are bound to compete in the biggest platform available to Filipino clubs, which is the 2016 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup.
Two AFC Cup spots are given to Filipino teams. One is awarded to the league champions, while the other belongs to the cup winners. Initially, the group stage spot was meant for the latter with the former spot serving as a playoff spot. Ceres-La Salle, before the start of the season, was thought to be in the group stage already when roles were reserved. Instead, it was Global who were sent to the group stages. Ceres-La Salle had to settle for a one-match playoff with Maldives side Maziya, to whom they lost 1-0 away.
If you ask Ali Go a few months back, the Ceres-La Salle’s Head Coach would have said that they should have not played in the Maldives. “This [championship] is very sweet for us. I’m sorry to say, but the last time in the AFC Cup, I think we felt that we’ve been robbed of playing in the group stage,” he claimed. By winning the league, Ceres-La Salle proved to everyone that they really deserve a place in the continent’s second most important club competition. Skipper Juani Guirado supported his mentor’s statement, saying that the heartbreak in the past offered them only one option. “We needed to work hard because we are new to the situation. We need to win the league. No chance for other things,” the captain pointed out.
Guirado’s teammate for club and country and one of the key personnel behind Ceres-La Salle’s overwhelming success in the league, Martin Steuble, felt happy with their latest accomplishment. Not only did they become the best team in the Philippines, as they also earned the highly-sought privilege of competing amongst good quality Asian sides. Their season looked like a walk in the park, but it was anything but that, according to the one-time Sporting Kansas City player. “Not all the games were that clear as it seems in the end, but that makes us even happier and prouder that we did it all the way,” he said with fulfillment. Describing the qualification to the AFC Cup a main goal for Ceres, Steuble looks back at the defeat in South Asia as a critical juncture in their otherwise glorious season. “I think that brought us even closer together so we could achieve this goal now,” the Azkals midfielder stated.
For next year’s edition, Go will eye to lead his team to at least a step further of where rivals Global FC finished this year. The dethroned UFL champions narrowly missed out on the knockout stage after finishing third in a four-year classification group. “It’s going to be a great season,” Steuble enthused. — LGT