Ceres ends historic run, bows to Tianjin in ACL Play-off

TIANJIN, China – Ceres-Negros FC bowed out of the AFC Champions League after succumbing to a 0-2 loss against Tianjin Quanjian last January 30 at the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium in China. Anthony Modeste was the top scorer after finishing with a brace, scoring goals in each half.

The first half was a challenge as the frozen pitch proved too hard and slippery for both teams. Tianjin was dangerous early as Doblas was forced off his line to block the danger from Modeste after a well played counterattack.

The home side threatened again minutes later with a free kick that went straight to Doblas and a Sun Ke attempt that was off target. Stephan Schrock had the best chance for the away squad in the 13th minute when his left footed shot from a Mike Ott pass was palmed for a corner by Zhan Lu.

Axel Witsel attempted from distance in the 18th minute but the Ceres keeper was there for the save. A minute later, Modeste rose above the defense to head in the opening goal and give Tianin the 1-0 lead.

Schrock initiated a good counter in the 24th but the defensed dispossessed Bienvenido Maranon in the process. Attempts from Kevin Ingreso and OJ Porteria thereafter where all off target.

Tianjin took the reins thereafter with Alexander Pato who tried to score from a narrow angle which Doblas easily saved. Half chances from Modeste and Zhao Xuri came after but both were found wanting.

Ceres had a last chance with an Ingreso free kick but the ball went over. Halftime finished with the home squad earning the 1-0 lead.

The Negros squad had an exciting chance just after the restart saw Mike Ott almost giving the visitors the equalizer from a pinball in front of goal. Schrock tried a cheeky shot off a free kick but Hang Lu took care of the ball well.

The PFL champs were bringing the game to the CSL third placers but the latter took advantage of the gaps in the defense. Pato made a well weighted pass to Modeste who broke the offside trap. The Frenchman only had Doblas to beat and made no mistake putting his squad 2-0 up in the 57th.

The busmen had another chance to get a goal back when Junior Munoz collected a poor pass and released to Schrock in midfield in the 59th minute. Challenged by defenders, the midfielder tried to evade the competition before he released a strike that zoomed wide of the goal.

Doblas was again forced off his line in the 64th minute as the veteran intercepted a danger ball from a streaking Pato. An industrious play from Schrock saw the Ceres attacker win the ball and release a pass to Maranon who was eventually dealt with by the Tianjin defense.

Pato was again a thorn in the 70th after he finally broke free of Doblas’ excursions off his box. The Brazilian however failed to capitalize as his shot hit the side netting of an open goal.

Both teams earned half chances with minutes to go but both defensive lines were able to adapt well in the final fifteen minutes. Modeste almost had a had trick with a left footer but his shot was a foot wide of the top corner.

A teasing ball by Schrock was headed back by substitute Takumi Uesato but the keeper did well to control the situation. Two minutes were added on the match which had 20,310 in attendance with Tianjin eventually earning the win and a spot in the group stage.

“Obviously, we played against a much stronger team today,” said Ceres Coach Risto Vidakovic. “We expected something similar (from Tianjin’s game) today. I can be very proud of my players because they gave everything like they always do.”

Ceres-Negros were on a handicap prior to the match as they had to eliminate both Shan United and Brisbane Roar in consecutive away games to reach the playoff which consisted of long travel periods and opposite conditions from Tianjin.

“We came from Australia just five days ago and had to arrange the travel to China. It was not easy because of the travels but I think the players responded on the pitch. We lost against a very strong opponent and I think they (Tianjin) deserve to win,” the former La Liga defender added.

The Busmen made Philippine club football history after reaching the penultimate qualifying match of Asia’s elite club competition.

With the Champions League run now over, the busmen set their sights in the 2018 AFC Cup where they’ll face Shan United, Home United, and the winner of the playoff between Boeung Ket Angkor and Lao Toyota.

The first match is set in Bacolod on February 13 against the Playoff winner with kickoff scheduled at 730pm at the Panaad Stadium.

Photos from Paul Smith / Brisbane Roar FC