Bacolod squad Ceres-La Salle FC held Selangor FA to a 0-0 draw last April 26 at the Selayang Municipal Stadium near Kuala Lumpur. The point earned pushed Ceres to nine points in Group E making them the first Philippine squad to reach the Round of 16 of the AFC Cup.
Both teams came in the match with a must win scenario with Selangor fighting for their AFC cup lives needing a win and Ceres fighting for heir unbeaten streak and an automatic place in the next round. Selangor were the aggressors at the start with the Malaysian squad earning a few half-chances in the buildup. Andik Vermansyah had the first try from the danger in the 11th but his shot was wide. Ceres-La Salle then regained their form with possession in the midfield to make the match an exciting battle.
Liberian striker Patrick Ronaldinho Wleh had come off on the 19th minute unable to continue after his skirmish with Korean centerback Sang Min Kim. The busmen had their first chance in the 26th when Manny Ott’s free kick from the edge of the box was headed out by Azrif. Selangor’s Mauro Olivi would return the favor minutes after but his shot was tapped out by Louie Michael Casas.
The Malaysian squad then turned up the heat fifteen minutes before the half forcing Ali Go to readjust his wing backs in the game. Jeff Christaens was moved to left back while Victorino Son was moved to right. This allowed Ceres to diffuse the home attack to maintain the 0-0 scoreline at the break.
The start of the second half saw both teams going for the all-important goal. Olivi tested Casas from the edge of the box but the Ceres keeper collects. Moments later, Christaens cross from the left for Stephan Shröck found its way to an open Adrian Gallardo who’s left-footed shot in the face if the goal was wide.
Ceres then took control of the midfield, keeping the ball and frustrating Selangor. A one-two by Patrrick Reichelt and Shröck saw the former breaking free in the box . Reichelt was then brought down from behind by a defender but the referee did not react allowing the play to continue. The Azkals player was livid when no penalty was given as the challenge was nowhere near the ball.
The visitors had a beautiful chance in the 61st when a sliced clearance froma corner found its way to Jason Sabio who’s header was just a foot over the bar. Sabio was turning back time with a great defensive performance partnering well with captain Sang Min at the back. The home squad were again knocking through the Ceres defense with Olivi finding space for a shot which was blocked by the captain.
Ott was dominating his match-up with Nazmi Faiz, dispossessing the Malaysian international but was fouled en route to the box. Shröck took the ensuing free kick but his dipping shot was saved by Norazlan. He had another chance in the 70th after combining with Ott after a short corner and unleashing a shot with his left foot which sailed past the top left corner.
The home squad would return the favor with substitute S. Venood’s run in the wings, but the his succeeding attempt was cleared out by Sang Min for the corner. Selangor fans became louder at that point egging their squad for a goal. Selangor’s towering centerback Robert Cornthwaite directed a header in the ensuing corner but the ball deflected off Sang Min before being cleared out.
Selangor hit the back of the net in the 73rd but the pass leading to shot was declared offside. The home squad would then earn a free kick three minutes later after Olivi fell down at the edge of the box. The Ceres players and bench were complaining for an apparent dive of the Selangor import whose ensuing free kick was wide to the right.
Andik showed off his skills in the 81st but Son was consistent all throughout forcing the winger to issue a bad cross which was eventually cleared by Christaens. The home crowd was again pushing for a winner which led to Nazmi’s attempt from thirty yards which curled wide.
Nazmi was again dangerous from the left in the 87th but his finishing failed him as Selangor’s last attempt was well wide. The referee added three minutes of injury time but Ceres held on to take the draw from the match. The point earned, coupled with the surprise loss of Tampines Rovers to Lt. Sheikh Jamal, assured Ceres of its place in the next round being the first in Philippine football history to achieve the feat.
“We really prepared for this AFC cup since November last year. The team suffered injuries (since then) but for this game, they showed that up to the last minute they didn’t give up,” said Ceres coach Franklin Muescan. “I think what happened in this game is really a great honor for our country, our team, for the owner. Good things are happening in Philippine football right now and all-in-all, the hard work already paid off a lot,” he added.
Ceres will now focus on its final AFC Cup match at home on May 10 against a resurgent Lt. Sheikh Jamal squad. A win is needed to cement their number one spot in number, earning them to host the one-game knockout for the Round of 16.