MANILA, Philippines – Ceres-Negros embarks on a historic voyage as they attempt to overcome Tianjin Quanjian to reach the group stage of the AFC Champions League on January 30 at the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium in northeastern China. The event marks the first meeting of a Filipino and Chinese clubs in Asian football competition.
It was a challenging start in qualifying for the Negros squad as they barely had preparations before the first preliminary match versus Shan United. Armed with only three training sessions, they edged the Myanmar champions in the penalty shootout which meant they would travel to Australia the week after to face Brisbane Roar in the second round.
The Busmen made history after they disposed of the Roar last January 23 with a surprise 3-2 win in Queensland. Ceres were a goal down even after dominating the early stages but Bienvenido Marañon equalized just before halftime.
Consecutive goals in the second half from Marañon and Omid Nazari pushed the Filipino squad to a 3-1 lead but a late goal from the home squad wasn’t enough to topple the PFL champions in the prelims to set the meeting with Tianjin Quanjian.
“It was a huge win for Filipino Football,” said Team Captain Carli De Murga. “We are so happy. The Negrenses and the kababayans enjoyed the game. I think we did our job, we were very solid and we worked as a team,” he added.
The Philippine champions will now face Tianjin Quanjian which boasts of big names such as Brazilian Alexander Pato, Frechman Anthony Modeste, and Belgian Axel Witsel. The big-money squad placed third in the 2017 Chinese Super League and recently completed their pre-season in Europe playing the likes of Sparta Prague and Lokomotiv Moscow.
With the Filipino club set as heavy underdogs in the match, Ceres-Negros are heading to China with the same mentality that have made them successful in the last two matches.
“We wanna keep working with the same humility, with the same passion. Dreaming is free. Of course we are realistic, they have so many players earning millions of euros but at the end of the day football is eleven against eleven and anything can happen,” said De Murga.
Ceres-Negros travels to the port city Monday night after securing their visas just hours earlier. The short break after being crowned champions last December 16 and the away games of the preliminary rounds made it difficult for the club as physical passports were needed to be submitted to acquire the said visas.
The winner of the match will qualify for Group E of Asia’s elite club competition where the likes of Koreas’s Jeonbyuk Hyundai Motors and Hong Kongs Kitchee awaits. The match will be televised in Fox Sports (1) and will kick off at 330PM Philippine time.