Philippine football giants Ceres-La Salle FC and Kaya FC are up for the continental challenge, with both teams raring to go in the upcoming Asian Football Confederation Cup first knockout round set to commence this midweek.
The two sides had remarkable stints in the group stages to earn them the right to advance into the last 16 of the tournament. At this stage of the season, teams are paired according to their ranking after the group stage. The top two teams of each four-team group will advance, with the group winners given the enviable privilege of hosting the knockout affair.
How Ceres advanced
The aforementioned advantage belongs to Ceres-La Salle, who topped their group after amassing 12 out of the maximum 18 points. They did it impressively, starting their journey with a resilient performance to earn a valuable point against Selangor. They also swept Bangladeshi side Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club, before obtaining valuable draws away from home against Southeast Asian neighbor teams Selangor and Tampines Rovers. A win at home against the Rovers, who eventually joined them as the runners-up of Group E, propelled the Busmen on top.
As a result, Ceres-La Salle will host South China tomorrow evening at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.
Up next: South China AA
The Hong Kong team are not strangers to Philippine opposition, as they had completed a double against Global FC in last year’s edition. However, their second visit to the country will have them surrounded by a football-mad Bacolod crowd eager to see their team go further in Asia’s second-most important club tournament.
Prior to their trip to the Philippines, South China had played two gruelling matches in less than a week. They lost on penalties against Pegasus in the Sapling Cup, before bowing out to Southern District a few days later in the AFC Cup Playoff round of the Hong Kong Premier League. Nonetheless, their continental form has been excellent, having won three games in a row to get them into the next round. As one of the three undefeated teams in the tournament, Ceres-La Salle will have to stay sharp in order to fend off the embattled team from Hong Kong. Beating Agila 10-1 was a good way to instill confidence that may come in handy in a one-off cup tie.
Last year’s UFL Cup winners reached the knockout rounds by winning two out of three home games. Their only setbacks came from facing Kitchee, who eked out identical 1-0 wins in the two games they played. A draw in Maldives against New Radiant guaranteed second place for the Makati team.
Finishing second in Group G, Kaya were given the daunting task of toppling Johor Darul Ta’zim.
Up next: Johor Darul Ta’zim
The Malaysian club finished off the group stages by winning all of their games, conceding only three goals and scoring 21. By the looks of it, the 2015 AFC Cup Champions might prove a handful for Kaya. However, Kaya had been underdogs in most of their games but have repeatedly shown how capable they are at beating the odds.
The difference between the two teams on paper is huge, but as neither is familiar with the other, it might turn out to be an entertaining classic between heavy favorites and the stubborn underdogs. Both teams thrashed league opposition prior to the match, giving them the confidence and the excitement for what could be a savory tie between neighbouring clubs.
Ceres-La Salle’s home game against South China AA will kick off tomorrow evening at 7:30 PM. Kaya’s game in Malaysia against Johor Darul Ta’zim will happen a night later, scheduled to kick off at 8:45 PM.
The Round of 16 stage of the tournament is a one-and-done affair, meaning ties will have to be broken by extra time and penalties if necessary.
The entire Philippines will have their eyes set on these two teams who may go on to rewrite history once more should they advance into the quarterfinal round.