Ceres-Negros FC ended its fairy tale run in the AFC Cup with a 1-1 draw vs FC Istiklol last September 12 at the Panaad Park and Stadium. The result saw the Tajikistan club moving on to the Inter-Zone semis by winning 1-5 on aggregate after a 4-0 result in the first leg.
It was an intense first fifteen minutes for both squads with Ceres taking the opening chance when Manny Ott’s stinging shot from outside the box in was covered well by keeper Nikola Stosic. Istiklol had twin chances moments later when a free shot from Jahongir Aliev went over the bar and Fathullo Fathuloev curling shot went straight to Roland Muller.
The home squad was controlling possession early with the visitors trying to catch the opponents at the break. OJ Porteria’s overhead kick and a half chance from Bienvenido Maranon was off target putting the home fans at the edge of their seats.
Ceres-Negros would pile on the pressure which resulted to chances after Kevin Ingreso’s thirty-five yard free kick went over the crossbar and Stephan Schrock’s strike from twenty-five was covered well by Stosic. They would get on the score sheet on the 34th minute when Manuel “Super” Herrera redirected an Ott cross to the second post to score Ceres’ first goal in the semifinal tie.
The Dushanbe squad pushed for their equalizer late in the half putting the home team in danger thrice. Manuchehr Dzhalilov headed over a point blank shot while Muller had to tame twin chances from Dzhalilov and Dimitri Barkov. The visitors shut the door for Ceres in injury time as Barkov slotted in the leveller, putting them ahead 5-1 on aggregate.
The Busmen had a golden chance after the break when a stray ball fell on Fernando Rodriguez lap. The Spanish striker however shot the ball over the bar at point blank range. Istiklol had a dangerous chance when David Mawutor’s long range attempt hit the outside of the post in the in the 55th minute. Herrera had to come off moments later as he aggregate his injury late in the first half.
With Ceres gunning for a winner, the backline was exposed as the Lions pushed for their own in the final thirty minutes. Muller had a one-on-one save on Dhazilov’s attempt in the hour mark and Oleksandr Stetsenko skied a chance from inside the box moments later.
Maranon skied a good attempt after getting a through ball from Schrock in the 65th minute. Moments later it was Ott who had a 1v1 chance versus Stosic but the Istiklol keeper who was named Man of the Match made a fine block to the attempt.
Istiklol centerback Artem Baranovskyi was sent off in the 70th minute after he struck Ingreso in the face with his boot after a challenge. The home squad tried to maximize the advantage but fatigue coupled with the spirited performance of Stosic prevented them from getting a winner. The final whistle blew with the two teams level and Istiklol progressing to the Inter-Zone Playoff final.
It was a great run for the Negros squad after they exceeded expectations from the group stages. Pitted in the group off death in the ASEAN zone, they qualified to the zonal semis edging out Hanoi in the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Busmen knocked out former champions Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semis before winning over Home United in the ASEAN final.