Ceres-Negros FC Coach Risto Vidakovic stepped into a quiet press conference with a hint of gloom after his team was eliminated in the AFC Cup. Although the team settled for a draw in its final game, the Serbian-born mentor was still upbeat on his clubs’ extraordinary run in the continental competition.
“I’m really proud of my players, what they did, and what they reached in this short period. We were a completely new team with a lot of new players and I think nobody expected we would do something so important for Philippine football. Something historic,” said Vidakovic.
It was historic indeed for the Filipino club who survived the likes of Vietnam’s Hanoi FC, Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim, and Singapore’s Home United to clinch the first ever ASEAN Zone title in the AFC Cup.
Though the aggregate loss against the Tajikistan club was a big reality check for the club, Vidakovic still credited his players for trying to get a good result in the second leg. “Today we lost against, for me, a much better team. So I’m proud of my players, they fought until the end and everyone gave everything,” the Spanish Coach exclaimed.
The former Real Betis player also lamented the tournament format where the ASEAN winners would need to survive knockout matches before it can reach the Inter-Zone Semis. “It wast easy for us because we have a longer way to reach this semifinal. We played much more games than them (Istiklol) and they are just waiting for us,” he added.
Aside from the travel plus ten difficult matches for Ceres in the ASEAN Zone of the AFC Cup, the Negros club also had to endure the tight schedule of the Philippines Football League and also national team duty for some of its players.
“We have too many games in short periods (in the PFL) so its not easy to recover players. If we count the national team also, because we have a lot of players in the team, they also have to travel (and play) with the national team,” Vidakovic added.
With all that the club has gone through the last few months, the Ceres mentor had nothing but gratitude to his squad for what it has achieved. “If we count everything that happened in the last six months, I think everyone from Negros must be very proud of this team.”