Knowing that anything less than three points would dash their chances of progressing into the knockout rounds of the AFC Cup, Ceres-Negros FC came up with the goods to record a staggering 6-2 triumph against Hanoi FC on Wednesday evening at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.
With the win, Ceres-Negros are back on top of Group G with eight points from five games. It’s a similar tally to Hanoi, who had been on top prior to the game. Between them, Ceres-Negros own the superior head-to-head record that puts them above the Vietnamese club should they figure in a tie. Only the group leaders are assured of qualification in the three ASEAN groups in the AFC Cup.
It was actually the visiting side who were on the front foot right away. In the fourth minute, Nguyen Van Quyet met Pham Than Luong’s lobbed free kick into the box. Having scored in their last encounter in Hanoi, the Vietnamese midfielder was thwarted by Jeffrey Christiaens, who shadowed his move to perfection.
A minute after the early chance, Ceres-Negros came up with their own through Iain Ramsay. It was more of a half chance, as he sent a loose ball high and wide from a good position inside the box. At that point, it looked like it would be a sluggish encounter between both teams.
The course of the game then changed due to a clumsy error committed by Tran Van Kien. In the 13th minute, the defender felled Bienve Marañon just inside the box, leaving the referee with no other option but to point to the spot. The Spaniard — who is also leading all scorers for Ceres-Negros — coolly put his team ahead, 1-0, in the crucial Group G encounter.
The early goal sliced the game wide open, forcing both teams to hunt what was an inevitable second goal in the match. It looked like Van Quyet would punish the Ceres-Negros defense as he only had Christiaens and Roland Müller between him and the goal, but the Hanoi midfielder lost his footing at the wrong time. As Ceres-Negros recovered, they launched an attack that reaped dividends anew.
Down the other end of the pitch, Kevin Ingreso smashed a 20-yard strike off the crossbar and into goal, doubling the hosts’ advantage. It appeared to be a prelude to a repeat of what they had done against the Tampines Rovers. However, the Vietnamese champions proved that they are a far better team than the Singaporeans.
Ceres-Negros’ two-goal cushion was almost instantly reduced to one, after a 25th minute free kick taken by Than Luong found its way in off the post to pull one back for the visitors. It was a result of Manuel Herrera’s duty foul on Van Quyet, who otherwise would have been through on goal. The Hanoi captain’s goal set up a nice final 20 minutes of the first half, as a pending fourth goal would dictate the direction of the affair.
Despite trailing by a goal, Hanoi played better in the final moments of the opening half and nearly leveled the scores if not for Moses Oloya just missing a decent attempt from a tight angle six minutes before halftime. The hosts held on to keep their slender 2-1 lead at the break.
Given a frantic first half, the two teams resumed action in the second half with almost the same pace. In such a contest, goals were bound to come sooner rather than later and Fernando Rodriguez proved it to be true. The Spanish striker instinctively chased a loose ball right at the edge of the box to loop a cheeky effort over Nguyen Van Cong to restore the home team’s two-goal lead.
Things went from bad to worse for Hanoi just after the hour mark, as substitute forward Hoang Vu Samson was given a straight red card for violently dealing with defenders Herrera and Kota Kawase. The task at hand was made tougher for the Vietnamese, who looked destined to surrender Group G pole.
Nevertheless, they showed grit in face of adversity, with Ceres-Negros forced back to defend even if they were enjoying an extra man advantage on the pitch. The visitors tried, but in doing so opened the gates for a fourth goal for Ceres-Negros through a nifty counter attacking move capped off by Rodriguez. It wasn’t certain if he got the final touch, but Ceres-Negros’ number nine likely doesn’t care, as it placed his team in an unassailable position in the match.
With a hefty amount of time still left, Hanoi worked hard to find a second goal and grabbed it through Do Hung Dung, who converted a penalty he won from Arnie Pasinabo.
At 4-2, with still four minutes remaining, an unlikely comeback might have been looming on the horizon, but two quick goals from the Busmen quashed any possibility of such. Clinical finishing from Jason De Jong and Marañon in the last three minutes of the match made it a night to remember for Ceres-Negros, who now are a win away from potentially clinching a spot in the knockout rounds.
For them to do so, they have to beat Tampines Rovers in Singapore on May 3. Hanoi, on the same day, will look to better the Philippine team’s result when they host FELDA United. A compelling finish in Group G beckons as all teams still have a realistic chance of making it to the knockout rounds.