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Adrian Gallardo has been pivotal during Ceres-La Salle's AFC Cup campaign


Gallardo brace seals Ceres-La Salle’s first ever AFC Cup triumph

Thanks to Adrian Gallardo’s two first half goals, Ceres-La Salle topped Bangladeshi side Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club, 2-0, Wednesday evening at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.

Once again, the beloved Spanish striker of Bacolod came up big for Ceres-La Salle at the continental stage. Salvaging a valuable point two weeks ago, he provided the finishing touches yesterday evening to give his team a historic victory as it was their first in Asia’s second most important club competition.

The goalscorer was at it early in the game, producing the first chance four minutes in. He unleashed a promising shot from just outside the box, which was deflected out for a corner. The ensuing set piece taken by Stephan Schröck resulted in another attempt. Kevin Ingreso got on the end of it but placed his shot a few inches over the bar. Not even a full minute later, Gallardo nodded the ball on target but goalkeeper Sahidul Alam was able to catch it with ease.

Chances continued to come for the away side over the course of the game’s opening 20 minutes. Ingreso made a good run before teeing up Schröck from around 30 yards. In a similar position as to where he struck well in Bacolod, the 29 year-old midfielder dared to open the scoring once more only for his shot to be caught comfortably by Sahidul.

Five minutes before the deadlock was broken, Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi threatened to go ahead. Emeka Onouha sent a fine ball towards Wedson Anselme. Unfortunately for them, Ceres keeper Louie Casas was there to anticipate the cross. That was the best chance for the hosts while the score was still level as Ceres-La Salle controlled the tempo.

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At the 25th minute mark, Gallardo notched his first goal of the night. The Spaniard was a recipient of a clever cross coming from Patrick Reichelt. It was not supposed to come his way but a scramble for the ball had it in front of him off the back of teammate Bienvenido Marañon. Given enough room to shoot, Gallardo struck the ball strong enough for Sahidul to not get enough power in keeping it out. Just like in their first match, Ceres-La Salle took an early lead.

Having fallen behind, the hosts surged forward with the hopes of restoring parity as soon as possible. Landing Darboe tested Casas who wasn’t totally bothered by the tame attempt. Opportunities like that would often encourage the trailing team, so the visitors took no chance and made sure their lead grew bigger.

With the game gradually opening up, Ceres-La Salle didn’t have to wait for them to double their lead. Just before the half hour mark,Gallardo slotted the ball into the goal again. This time around, Schröck created the chance by freeing the Ceres striker with a nifty through ball into the Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi box. Gallardo’s instincts enabled him to get to the ball before the keep after which he expertly drilled the ball into the onion bag.

The Busmen were cruising to halftime with a 2-0 lead that was nearly reduced by their opponents just before the break. With 39 minutes played, Landing again provided a scare for Ceres-La Salle. His shot from long range was able to beat Casas, yet it could only smack the woodwork. In first half added time, Yeasin Khan got a touch on Wedson’s free kick. On target, Yeasin’s shot was palmed away by Casas. The Bangladeshi was able to pounce on the rebound but was denied anew by a gang of Ceres defenders. At halftime, Ceres-La Salle carried a well-deserved 2-0 advantage.

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The second half began with the hosts asserting dominance in terms of possession. Yet despite bossing the opening 20 minutes or so of the closing period, Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi failed to break down the resolute Ceres-La Salle backline. Relatively starved of the ball, the visiting team even created the second half’s first decent chance with only 22 minutes in the clock. Schröck marched onto the attacking third before slipping the ball into the path of Manny Ott. The Filipino international’s effort was on target, but Sahidul was at the right place at the right time to catch the ball.

The home team nearly trimmed the deficit six minutes after when Emeka found Wedson unmarked inside the box. The Haitian had a wonderful opportunity to make it a game as he hit the ball with power and accuracy. However, Casas urgently reacted by making himself big to block the shot and clear the ball away from danger too.

As the ball went far from him, Ceres-La Salle almost made it a three-goal lead. Marañon whipped the ball aimed to get past the Sheikh Jamal goalie. While he was able to do that, the ball struck the same goalpost that denied Landing in the first half.

With time winding down, Sheikh Jamal were hit by a bigger blow. Yeasin fouled Ingreso quite recklessly and got himself a second yellow card as a result. Playing against 10 men, the Busmen looked favorites to score one more goal before the game finished. They came very close 11 minutes from time as Schröck’s free kick was spilled by Sahidul. The Sheikh Jamal keeper, nonetheless, got there in time to prevent the ball from rolling into the goal.

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Towards the end, both teams conjured a shot each that didn’t really rest each keeper. It was enough for Ceres-La Salle who will fly out of Bangladesh with maximum points. It marks their first victory in the AFC Cup after three tries.

Yesterday night’s results propelled Ceres-La Salle into sole second place with four points to their tally. Up next for them is a trip to Singapore to play against group leaders Tampines Rovers. Like Ceres-La Salle, they also emerged victorious last night. The Singaporeans took all the points when they picked up a 1-0 win over Selangor, maintaining a 100% record in the competition. Their encounter will take place next Tuesday, 7PM, at the Clementi Stadium.

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