Junior Muñoz and Kevin Ingreso faced one of the biggest challenges in their professional careers last Tuesday when they played against the Tianjin trio of Anthony Modeste, Alexandre Pato, and Axel Witsel in China. The Ceres veterans shared their experience to ceresfootball.com in playing against the biggest group of stars they faced in Asian competition.
“We knew they have a strong squad that had high level quality players,” said Ingreso. “We knew it’s gonna be hard for us to compete with them but I think we did our best did very well especially the first half,” added the Ceres midfielder.
Ceres-Negros almost scored the opening goal but goalkeeper Zhang Lu made a last ditch save off a Stephan Schrock strike in the first half. The combination of height, speed, and quality on the ball eventually showed in the Tianjin attack which gave problems to the Ceres defense.
“It was a different level,” said Muñoz. “First of all, the size alone of Modeste was hard to compete with especially for our average (defensive) height. You can really see that they were making the difference,” the wing-back added.
The 1.87m (6’2 ft) Modeste rose above everyone to nod in the opener in the first half before combining with the two other stars later for a clinical finish in the second. Muñoz, who was a starter in the last two matches, saw firsthand the disparity of the teams they faced in the campaign.
“There was more connection between the attack of Tianjin between the three foreign players. Building up and going forward, they had more connection than the team prior,” said Muñoz.
Ingreso agreed with his teammate on the influence of the three as being the game changers in the tie. “They had a few chances and they scored especially in midfield with Witsel and Modeste in front. They’re very strong and you can see a lot of quality in them,” added Ingreso.
Playing top teams with world class players is a rarity for Philippine squads in Asian competition. Muñoz believes that the once-in-a-lifetime match may have given them the right polishing for the challenges ahead.
“It was a great experience. It think the match also reminded us on where we can still improve as a team. It doesn’t matter how good the individual can be but rather how good everyone is collectively. We also have a title to defend so we definitely have to work harder compared to last year and work more as a team,” the Filipino international added.
Photo from Myanmar National League