Ceres-Negros FC secured top spot in Group G with a 4-2 win away versus Tampines Rovers last May 3 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore. Bienvenido Marañon scored a brace with Fernando Rodriguez and Kota Kawase scoring a goal each. Yasir Hanapi scored a brace for the home squad. The home squad had their chance in the 13th minute when Daniel Bennet met a Shakir Hamzah free kick. The Singapore veteran however shot over the bar. The Stags would get another chance from Shakir moments later but his attempt was way over.
The Bacolod squad doubled the lead in the 23rd when an error in the Tampines midfield deflected the ball into space and allowed Manny Ott to run towards the keeper unopposed before laying off to Marañon for the tap-in. Ceres would also get an error of their own minutes later which allowed Hanapi a one-on-one with Roland Muller with the midfielder pulling one back for his squad.
The Busmen opened the scoring in the 6th minute when a failed clearance by Tampines keeper Izwan Mahbud went straight to OJ Porteria who rushed to the wing and provided a perfect ball to Marañon who calmly headed in the ball. The game would chance moments later when a reckless challenge by Shakir on Rodriguez earned him a straight red putting his team one-man down against the visitors. Tampines would hold the fort well in the remaining minutes but a handball of substitute Ismadi Muktar from an Iain Ramsay cross. Rodriguez would step-in to score the penalty in the final minute to secure the 3-1 lead for the visitors.
The second half was a different story after Tampines’ Khairul Amri was introduced into the match. The Singapore veteran changed the complexion of the game with his persistent play earning his squad a penalty just before the hour mark. Hafiz made no mistake from the spot to claw his squad back into contention. Ceres would push for another goal in the next few minutes with shots from Manny Ott and Porteria which were handled well by Mahbud. Their persistence would bear fruit in the 66th when Kota Kawase scored off a Kevin Ingreso corner to score the 4th goal for the Bacolod-based squad.
The S.League squad tried to launch a fightback in the remaining minutes with Amri shooting wide off the top corner in the 71st. A dangerous backpass from the Ceres midfield allowed another chance but the backline responded with a good clearance. Ramsay would try his luck in the 79th but his try was just wide. Amri met a cross from a Tampines corner but this header was well wide. Ceres would control possession in the final minutes until the final whistle to complete the 4-2 win.
The Negros squad would finish the group with 11 points, tied with Hanoi FC, but they would finish on top because of the head-to-head tiebreaker rule. The Busmen qualify to the ASEAN Zonal semifinals where they will face Group F runners up Johor Darul Ta’zim. The semis will be a two-legged affair with home-and-away matches scheduled on May 17 and 31.
Photo from AFC/Lagardere Sports