Ceres-Negros now have plenty of work to do if they are to qualify for the ASEAN zonal semifinals of the 2017 AFC Cup, after their Malaysian counterparts Felda United handed them their first loss in the tournament in the contest that finished 3-0, Tuesday afternoon at the Shah Alam Stadium in Malaysia.
With two games left in the group stage, Ceres-Negros now have the same points tally as Felda United at five points, but are technically behind as the Malaysian club have the better head-to-head record. They began the day on top of the four-team group.
No matter what happens in the Tampines-Ha Noi game that is taking place as of this writing, Ceres-Negros will be at least in a tie for second place of Group G, which makes qualifying tedious heading into the final two matchdays. Only the top team in the group is guaranteed qualification into the zonal semis, with the best runner-up among the three ASEAN groups set to join them.
Initially, Ceres-Negros looked the better of the two teams. They were eager to attack the hosts early on and didn’t take long to create a chance in the fifth minute of the game. Iain Ramsay drilled in a good cross to meet Fernando Rodriguez in the air, but the forward wasn’t able to guide the ball on target.
It was a difficult shot to make, but it would had been nice for Ceres-Negros if Rodriguez had executed it well, as the next chance of the game on the other side of the pitch changed the tide of the game altogether.
The minute after Ceres-Negros had a go on goal, Felda United opened the scoring through a wonderful effort by Muhammad Syahid. Set up by Muhammad Hadin Azman around 25 yards away from goal, the year-old midfielder launched the ball into the top corner that left Ceres-Negros goalkeeper Roland Müller helpless.
The hosts, who entered Matchday Four as the bottom team in Group G, nearly doubled their advantage just two minutes after taking the lead. Zah Rahan Krangar got in behind the puzzled Ceres-Negros defense to chase the ball, but Müller did well to palm the ball away and keep the margin to just a goal.
It would have been difficult for Ceres-Negros had they went two goals behind so early in the game, but with the way Felda showed up in the first half, the Bacolod-based team may have been relieved that their opponents’ advantage did not increase.
The away side had limited efforts to test Felda keeper Mohd Farizal, whose only save in the first 45 minutes came from Rodriguez’s decent shot from outside the box 24 minutes after kickoff. The Spanish striker also had a terrible miss to rue in the 31st minute, as he failed to steer the ball into the back of the net despite hitting it only from a few yards away.
Gaston Cellerino and Krangar also flubbed two big chances in the 28th and 42nd minute respectively. Both attackers had the beatings of the former Philippines international goalkeeper but also managed to scuff their attempts wide to the left of the goal.
As for the hosts, a 1-0 lead at the break was somewhat positive but only because they had the upper hand. The 2016 Malaysian Super League runners-up knew they deserved to be at least two goals in front at the interval.
As in the first half, Ceres-Negros saw more of the ball in the opening exchanges of the second period. This time around, Risto Vidakovic’s team showed more urgency to break down the defense, which created more chances. Unfortunately for them, none of those were converted to an equalizer.
In the 53rd minute, Ramsay whipped the ball towards the goal, which forced Farizal to tip the ball over the frame of the goal. The resulting corner led to a Carli de Murga header soft enough for the Felda keeper to collect. Four minutes after, a promising move from OJ Porteria inside the Felda box caused a scramble inside the box but the ball went to Farizal, who gathered it from a deflection off Mootaz Jounaidi.
Unable to peg the hosts back, Ceres-Negros paid the price as the Malaysians found the back of the net once again in the 65th minute. Norshahrul’s half-cleared cross reache,d Hadin Azman who smashed the ball clinically to double Felda United’s lead.
Thirteen minutes before full time, Ceres gave away a cheap third goal to the home team, as Müller’s inability to hold the ball from a corner allowed Fazrul Hazli to bundle in the ball for what was the easiest goal of the bunch.
The Filipinos tried to press for a consolation goal to at least improve their goal difference, but they left the Shah Alam Stadium empty-handed.
Ceres-Negros will look to bounce back when they return to action on Wednesday, April 19, against Ha Noi FC in front of a passionate Negrense crowd at the Panaad Park and Stadium.
Photo from the-AFC.com