A rematch is in the books for Ceres-Negros and Home United as they meet on the first leg of the ASEAN Zonal Final of the AFC Cup on August 1 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.
Both teams have featured in the first Zonal final last year where the Filipino club prevailed 3-2 on aggregate with Ceres-Negros clinching it with a 2-0 win in Bacolod.
Home United however has the season advantage as they have an undefeated record over the Philippine champions in the group stage of the competition.
Ceres-Negros hammered in a 1-1 draw in their first meeting at the Jalan Besar stadium last February. Shahril Ishak put his side ahead from the spot while Super Herrera nodded in the equalizer late in the match.
Late goals from Izzdin Shafiq and Song Ui-Young were the difference when the Protectors shocked the Busmen at home in Panaad last April 25. The result saw Home United qualify as the top team in Group F while Ceres-Negros came in as the best second place team in the zone.
The two teams went on to the semifinals against tough opponents with both teams pulling off impressive results over two legs. Home United edged out Persija Jakarta at home 3-2 before producing an impressive result in Indonesia after running away with a 3-1 victory.
Ceres-Negros meanwhile stamped their class in Bacolod City after a 4-2 opening win over Yangon United but they were tested in the second leg under tough conditions in Myanmar losing 2-3 but did enough to reach the final via aggregate.
The Busmen victory in the semis was however dampened by the suspension of Maranon after his expulsion late in the semifinals. He will be missing both legs of the final after a decision from the AFC.
Ceres Coach Risto Vidakovic is unfazed by the strikers absence citing the depth of his team is enough to produce a result. “For me its nothing new that Bienve (Maranon) does’nt play. We have already prepared without him. I think we have enough supply of players that the team will not suffer in his absence,” said Vidakovic.
“Bienve (Maranon) is a big loss for us but I think the way our system is built, its not very much dependent on a single player,” said Team Captain Martin Steuble “Someone has to step in and I’m sure he will fulfill his role completely,” he added.
Ceres-Negros has reinforced its lineup in the transfer window, signing key players in important positions for the squad. Former A-League striker Blake Powell comes in to the busmen as well as defender Jerry Barbaso and midfielder Curt Dizon.
Former Ceres-Negros and longtime national team players Paul Mulders and Roland Muller return to the squad in their bid to a back to back ASEAN Zone title.
Home United has also added a new player in their ranks with Australian midfielder Isaka Cernak joining the fray. He will be the replacement of defender Sirina Camara who is already out because of a knee injury.
The Singaporean squad are expecting the availability of Korean attacker Song Ui-Young who was reported to be cleared by the doctor to play Tuesday morning.
An explosive first leg is expected as Ceres-Negros aims to get a good result in their home field while Home United anticipates to catch them on the break similar to their result last April.
Festivities start in Panaad as early as 7pm with kickoff slated thirty minutes after. The match will be shown on cable channel Fox Sports at the same time. The second leg of the final is scheduled in Singapore on August 8.