Ceres-Negros will be back to defend their ASEAN Zone reign despite falling to an eventful 3-2 defeat to Yangon United in a hotly-contested second leg of the 2018 AFC Cup ASEAN Zone Semifinal match, Wednesday afternoon at the Thuwunna Youth Training Center in Yangon, Myanmar.
The 2017 Philippines Football League champions, over two legs, came out 6-5 winners over the Myanmar club on their way to another two-legged clash with Home United of Singapore.
Entering the game with a two-goal cushion, Ceres knew they needed to avoid a defeat by two goals or more in order to advance to the final. The advantage they held in Bacolod proved crucial, as the hosts instantly took the initiative in their homeland.
Just two minutes in, Kosuke Yamazaki guided a magnificent effort beyond Toni Doblas’ reach to halve the deficit they needed to overcome. With plenty of time, the Myanmar side looked likely to put themselves in a good position to qualify.
Yet Ceres grabbed the next chance they got to restore the two-goal advantage they earned in Bacolod. Manny Ott and Stephan Schröck worked together to unlock the Yangon United defense just six minutes after falling behind in the game. The score remained the same until the latter minutes of the tie, which favoured Ceres, as each minute that went by drew them closer to the final.
Determined to change the impending situation, Yangon United worked hard to break the resolve of Risto Vidakovic’s wards. It left them exposed at the back, allowing Ceres a few decent glimpses in front of goal. Unfortunately for the hosts, one of those yielded another goal for the visitors.
With 12 minutes to go, Bienvenido Marañon seemingly sealed the Busmen’s place in the regional final after he scored Ceres’ second goal of the night and the sixth goal of the tie to put his team in a commanding position. It looked to have killed off the tie, but what happened next galvanized the home side.
After scoring, the Spaniard had a few choice words for defender Thein Zaw, which needlessly sparked a brawl that nearly went out of control. For his actions, Marañon was given a straight red card.
Down by one man, Ceres witnessed their advantage diminish immediately when the home team leveled the score right away through Aee Soe. The forward was left unmarked before smashing the ball into a virtually unguarded net. As tensions continued to rise, Emmanuel Ikechukwu picked up two quick yellow cards as he attempted to spark another chaotic moment in the game.
With both sides were reduced to ten men, the two teams played a really open game, with Yangon United moving with the ball more as they look to score two more goals before the final whistle. They managed to get one when Seykou Sylla converted from a penalty kick conceded by Carli de Murga in the 87th minute of the game. Another goal would’ve brought the match to extra time and possibly penalties, but Ceres stayed strong to hold on to their aggregate lead and finish the semifinal in normal time.
After the match, Martin Steuble told Fox Sports how proud he is of their achievements as a club. “Everybody did their job even though we lost this game today. The objective was the final and we’re there now. So repeat history and we hope this year that we can go further than we did last year,” the midfielder put to words.
He also added that the team did not have the most ideal of preparations, but it did not stop them from grinding out another important result in a competition they clearly value.
“Not our best game, of course. Obviously everybody saw that. But the shift we put in, the hard work, the sweat, everything, the professionalism paid off and we’re in the finals,” he declared.
Ceres will return to AFC Cup duty in late July to early August where they look to finally beat a Home United side they failed to best in two games this season. They managed to eliminate them last year and will aim to repeat in order to preserve their reign as ASEAN’s best in the AFC Cup.
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