Ceres-Negros FC failed to keep their unbeaten record intact after suffering a shock 2-0 loss against Home United, Wednesday evening at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod. The hosts were in control of the match only to concede two late goals against the disciplined Singaporean team.
Already through to the next round, Ceres-Negros knew that they only needed to avoid defeat in order to qualify as Group F winners. Yet they failed to achieve that, which relegated them to Group F runners-up.
In the grand scheme of things, it was still sufficient for the Busmen to qualify to the next round as the best. However, it dampened what had been a glamorous campaign enjoyed by Risto Vidakovic’s squad.
In the aftermath of the group stages, Ceres will prepare to square off with Group G winners Yangon United. Home United’s prize is a rather daunting trip against Group H winners Persija Jakarta in the ASEAN Zone playoff semifinals.
Ceres enjoyed a bright start, as they had much of the ball in the first half. Their opponents looked content to sit back during the early stages, so it may have been frustrating for them not to grab an early goal like they usually do at fortress Panaad.
In context, qualification for both sides would be achieved so long as Home Uniteddid not lose by more than four goals, so it was important for the visitors to avoid the hosts opening the floodgates early. Aidil Sharin employed a five-man defense in order to cope with an expected series of Ceres attacks. Safe to say, the Singaporean’s tactics were spot on.
Omid Nazari spearheaded the raid on the Protectors as he created the first two chances for the Busmen. Five minutes in, the midfielder weaved past the Home United defense before striking the ball straight towards Rudy Khairullah. Moments later, Nazari’s free kick attempt hit the crossbar. It was the closest Ceres came to breaking the deadlock until 15 minutes before halftime, when Stephan Schröck forced a save from Rudy K.
Most of the time, the Home United players camped around the penalty area in order to make life difficult for the Ceres attack. It was a different story whenever they got hold of the ball, as the visitors looked set up to combat their opponents’ high defensive line with quick counterattacks. Such was the case when Song Uiyoung attempted to open the scoring in the 25th minute. The forward’s shot was stopped by Carli De Murga – a move that, while marvelous, may have meant little anyway as the linesman had flagged for offside.
It was the best chance the visitors had in the first half, highlighting how cautious they had approached the opening 45 minutes of the match. They continued to play with more pragmatism for the next 45 minutes, prompting more opportunities for Ceres to reward their faithful crowd a deserved goal.
Two glorious chances went to naught for the Busmen in the first 20 minutes of the second period. First, Bienvenido Marañon glanced a header off a Schröck free kick wide. Then the Spanish striker fluffed his lines yet again in the 65th minute by blasting the ball above the bar. Scorer of seven goals in five previous AFC Cup outings for Ceres, he knew he should have done better.
Unfortunately for Ceres, it would only take one second for Home United to snap their unbeaten streak in Bacolod and that moment surprisingly happened 10 minutes before time. Shafiq Izzdin squeezed the ball past Toni Doblas, who conceded a goal for the first time in AFC Cup action at home.
Home United weren’t content with just a one-goal win, as they doubled the lead in second half added time. Sean Kane gave away a penalty, which Song converted with ease to punctuate a memorable night for the men from Singapore.
A first home defeat within 90 minutes for the Busmen at the Panaad Stadium is a harsh way to conclude what had been a wonderful group stage campaign. Fortunately for the home side, the loss does not spell elimination, as they move on to the next round as the best group runners-up. They return to action in the competition in a month’s time.