Ceres-Negros overcame Singaporean outfit Tampines Rovers to seal their place in the 2017 AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal semifinals after the Filipinos registered their first away win in this season’s competition, emerging 4-2 winners at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday night.
As only the group winners are assured of a spot in the zonal playoffs, the team from Bacolod knew that they needed to win by any margin to advance into the next round. Standing in their way were the Tampines Rovers, a team they trounced 5-0 in the reverse fixture. However, Ceres-Negros’ lackadaisical away form also meant that getting the job done would not be a walk in the park.
Thrashed 3-0 away to FELDA United the last time they had travelled, Ceres-Negros made sure that the same would not happen again a few hundred kilometers southeast of the Shah Alam Stadium. Just six minutes in, Bienvenido Marañon put the Busmen in front. The competition’s top scorer netted again after he emerged unmarked inside the Rovers box enabling him to tuck the ball in from OJ Porteria’s cross.
The Spaniard was proving too much to handle for the hosts, as he came up with Ceres-Negros’ second. Pouncing on a defensive lapse in the 23rd minute, Manny Ott navigated into the Tampines box before laying the ball off to Marañon, who scored his seventh goal in the competition — four of which are against the Singaporeans.
Just a couple of minutes later, it was Ceres-Negros’ turn to give away a goal as Yasir Hanapi trimmed the lead with a neat finish past Roland Müller. But just when Tampines looked like they could make things difficult for Ceres-Negros, the Singaporeans were dealt a huge blow, as defender Shakir Hamzah saw red for his challenge on Fernando Rodriguez shortly after his team had pulled one back.
With still 63 minutes to play, the visitors were aware that another goal from the home team would dent their chances of reaching the knockout rounds. Fortunately for them, they were awarded a penalty late in the first half to restore their two-goal advantage. Rodriguez did not waste the opportunity to make it 3-1 at halftime.
It looked like Ceres-Negros would cruise to the next round with their cushioned lead against a 10-man team with still 45 minutes left. But their stubborn hosts didn’t make it easy. Aiming to overcome all odds, Tampines were handed a lifeline after Junior Muñoz felled Khairul Amri in the box in the 59th minute. As he did in the first half, Hanapi scored at the hour mark to put his trailing team closer.
For all their efforts, however, Tampines couldn’t muster a comeback, and after Kota Kawase scored from a corner in the 66th minute to give Ceres another two-goal advantage, it seemed game over.
Playing with spirit but without the goals to show for it, the Rovers bowed out of the competition together with FELDA United, who lost away to Hanoi, 3-0. The Vietnamese champs, meanwhile, will wait for the results in Group F as it will help determine their fate in the competition. Hanoi and Ceres-Negros finished level on points, but a superior head-to-head record puts the Philippine club ahead of the 2016 V-League winners
As it stands, the best runner-up will likely come from Group F, which would mean a match-up between Ceres-Negros and whoever finishes lower between Johor Darul Takzim and local rivals Global-Cebu. The home-and-away zonal semifinals will be held in the third and last weeks of May.