Ceres-Negros FC was humbled by the stronger and tougher FC Istiklol of Tajikistan, drawing 1-1 at the Panaad Park and Stadium, last Tuesday.
It may not be the result Negrenses were hoping for, but it was indeed a great run for the five-year-old club, which became the first Philippine club to reach this level of Asian football. Moreover, Ceres FC also brought pride to the country after becoming the ASEAN Zonal champions – the best club in the region.
Despite exiting the tournament, Ceres successfully defended its home, with four wins and two draws – one from the last game and another against Felda United of Malaysia during the group stage.
As the famous line goes: Failure is part of success. We tried, failed, and learned from it.
Ceres-Negros FC (then-Ceres La Salle FC) first competed in the AFC Cup when they qualified for the playoff round two years ago, where they lost to Maziya S&RC of the Maldives, 1-0.
Also in 2015, Johor Darul Ta’zim FC became the first Malaysian club to win the AFC Cup, defeating Istiklol in the final. Notably, Nikola Stošić, the Tajik club’s goalkeeper last Tuesday, was also active during that 2015 final.
In 2016, Ceres topped their AFC Cup group and advanced to the Round of 16, where they lost to South China AA of Hong Kong, 1-0.
Ceres-Negros FC surpassed expectations in the 2017 AFC Cup, topping their group, eliminating Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semifinals, and capturing the ASEAN Zonal championship over Home United of Singapore.
For Ceres coach Risto Vidaković, the team needs to learn from their experience in this year’s AFC Cup and turn their attention to the Philippines Football League (PFL), which will be the key to qualifying for next year’s tournament.
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It was an honor to be a part of football history, serving as local organizer committee media officer. I would like to thank AFC Media Officer Coco Torre; and Djohan Rashid, Keth Lee, and Sameer Singh of the Lagardère Group for all the lessons.
My gratitude also goes out to Ceres-Negros FC Administrator Nicholas Golez and Chairman Leo Rey Yanson for their confidence./WDJ