Bacolod squad Ceres-Negros FC will face its biggest challenge in the 2017 AFC Cup in 2015 winners Johor Darul Ta’zim in the Zonal semifinals with the first leg happening at the Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on May 17. The Busmen topped group G while the Southern Tigers finished second in Group F.
The two sides have not met in any competition in history but have plenty of similarities going in to the semifinal match-up Both squads have been very active the last five years and have achieved plenty of success in the that span. Ceres-Negros, then Ceres-La Salle, was founded in 2012 and established itself from a provincial powerhouse to second and eventually first division champions in the Philippines. JDT meanwhile was revitalized in the same year which has eventually led to successive league titles since 2014.
The teams also boasts of having current and former national standouts in the fold. Safiq Rahim, Farizal Marlias, and Hazwan Bakri have featured for the Malaysian Tigers while Manny Ott, Roland Muller, and Iain Ramsay are some of those that have appeared for the Philippine Azkals. Most if not all players have national team experience and have the depth to contend for all titles in their domestic competitions. Aside from their local players, finports in JDT’s Gabriel Guerra and Ceres’ Bienvenido Marañon are currently tied in the AFC Cup top scorers race with seven goals each.
The semifinalists have contrasting AFC Cup histories against clubs from their opponents country. The Busmen have played three straight draws against Selangor FA and Felda United before bowing to the latter in a loss this year in Shah Alam. The Southern Tigers meanwhile have played huge wins versus Kaya and Global before dropping a game in Rizal Memorial in their most recent match.
Domestically, Ceres has only played its first game in the Philippines Football League after getting a draw in the opening match against Kaya. JDT meanwhile are on top of the Malaysian Super League after 12 games leading their nearest competitor by six points. Both squads are expected to be complete and are expected to field their best eleven as they both have a break in their domestic competitions by at least a week.
Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic has been consistent in his expectations since day one. “For me it’s always the same. I think for us its a big challenge to play this game. I think we have to do the things the did before to compete. I’m sure that my players will give everything to reach a good result,” said the former La Liga player. “My target for tomorrow is that my players to give their one hundred percent and compete. For us its a challenge and we have to compete like we compete(d) before and well see the result. In football you’ll never know,” he added.
“We came here to play a good game we know its a tough opponent. A big club were playing against but that’s what were looking for. We want to measure ourselves with them. Of course were here to compete and were all excited to play a big game tomorrow. The guys are ready to play a good game tomorrow,” said Ceres midfielder and Philippine International Manny Ott.
The first leg of the Asean Zonal Semifinal between the two teams will kick off at 845PM with the match shown live over Fox Sports.
Photo from Ivan Gayares