By Paulo Loreto Lim
Ceres-Negros FC defeated Singaporean outfit Home United FC, 3-2 on aggregate, at the Panaad Park and Stadium last night in the second leg of the 2017 AFC Cup ASEAN Zone final. The Negrense club was coming off a 2-1 loss in the first leg, however, the home side turned it around and won 2-0.
Ceres got off to a quick start, with a goal in the second minute by midfielder OJ Porteria.
Shortly after, in the 12th minute, Ceres almost doubled their lead after being awarded a penalty following a hand ball in the penalty area by Home United defender Abdil Qaiyyim. However, Ceres striker Fernando Rodríguez failed to convert after his attempt flew over the goal post.
Home United almost found their equalizer after a strike hit the crossbar, just out of reach of Ceres keeper Roland Müller.
In the 41st minute, Home United defender Afiq Yunos was shown a yellow card, giving the Negrense club an opportunity with a free kick at close range. Ceres Midfielder Manuel Ott successfully made it 2-0 after flicking the ball into the top right corner of the goal.
Home United opened the second half with a couple substitutions, with hopes of picking up the momentum in the second set of 45 minutes.
In the 64th minute, Rodríguez, who had missed a few more shots since the failed penalty, was substituted out for defender Kota Kawase. However, the forward was visibly upset with the call after he was seen flicking away a high-five from teammate Manuel Herrera López.
Ceres midfielder Bienvenido Marañón and defender Junior Muñoz were both substituted in as the second half progressed.
In the 81st minute, the home side suffered a huge scare, following a deluge of players around Müller, an errant kick struck the crossbar, almost equalizing the match, which would have forced the two clubs into extra time.
Nearing the end of regulation time, Marañón nearly locked up the match, however, his shot went over the goal.
As ASEAN Zone champions, Ceres FC next meets FC Istiklol of Tajikistan in the Inter-zone play-off semi-finals, with the first leg scheduled for August 22./WDJ