All sporting journeys must end in either glory or defeat. In the case of Ceres-Negros Football Club, a shot at continental silverware has run its course, as they drew 1-1 against FC Istiklol of Tajikistan.
The Busmen exit the 2017 AFC Cup with an aggregate score of 1-5 against the 2015 finalists, although that should not diminish the fantastic achievement made by the home side in getting this far in the competition.
Down 0-4 after the first leg, Ceres had no choice but to go all guns blazing in order to pull off another magical night at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod. Istiklol were content to sit deep and spring a counterattack, which they did very well.
Time was gold for the home side, and it took the Busmen 33 minutes to get a goal back. Istiklol’s defense repelled anything Ceres threw at it in open play. It took a Manny Ott corner kick to breach the away club’s defense, as an alert Manuel Herrera headed the ball into the Istiklol net.
Rather than be stunned, the goal seemed to awaken Istiklol from their slumber. The Crowns shifted gears and would have scored sooner if not for some fine saves from Ceres goalie Roland Muller. Unfortunately, Ceres’ defense was caught ball watching, as an unmarked Dmitry Barkov shot past Muller to level the scores in first half stoppage time.
If Ceres had a mountain to climb before the game, then they had to fly to the moon in the second half. But that flight did not take off soon enough, as striker Fernando Rodriguez squandered a big chance with the goal at his mercy after the restart.
Ultimately, no miracle happened. Istiklol goalkeeper Nikola Stosic was a brick wall at the heart of Istiklol’s defense.
Bienvenido Maranon and Iain Ramsay tried their luck to no avail. Not even Artem Baranovskyi’s 69th minute red card for booting Kevin Ingreso on the face can signal a comeback.
Ceres have been eliminated in the inter-zonal semi-finals with a 1-1 draw and a 1-5 aggregate loss to Istiklol, but the Southeast Asian champions have much to be proud of in their magical run.
Ceres XI: Muller (GK), Kawase, Herrera, Ingreso, Marañon, Ott, Rodriguez, Porteria, Ramsay, Schrock, De Murga ©
Istiklol XI: Stosic (GK), Asrorov, Mawutor, Baranovskyi, Jahongir, Barkov, Fathuloev ©, Nazarov, Juraboev, Stetsenko, Dzhalilov