ACL2020: FC Tokyo proved too big a hurdle for Ceres-Negros

Philippine champions Ceres-Negros fell short against hosts FC Tokyo as the AFC Champions League playoff match concluded 2-0 in favor of the Japanese side held in rain-soaked Ajinomoto Stadium last January 28.

The match began with both teams struggling to come up with decent play due to a waterlogged pitch. But FC Tokyo have been provided a promising opportunity with a free kick with skipper Keigo Higashi producing a teasing delivery but the ensuing header flew out of target.

In the 15th minute, FC Tokyo had a golden opportunity to get a goal with Higashi unleashing a goal-bound effort from inside the box, but Roland Muller pulled off a brilliant save with his leg to deny what could have been the breakthrough.

Come the 20th minute the Japanese outfit had another set-piece with Leandro providing the delivery only for Lebanese defender Joan Oumari to head over the bar.

A tense few moments immediately followed for the Filipino side as the east Asians marauded Ceres’ box, but the opportunities came and left unconverted.

Around the half-hour mark, both teams struggled to settle in their respective styles of play due to the tricky conditions that the water-logged pitch provided.

In the 37th minute, OJ Porteria’s ball-control forced FC Tokyo to commit a foul, but an almost decent effort from Ceres forward Bienvenido Maranon just flew wide of the far post.

Three minutes later, a defensive error by Super Herrera gifted Leandro a gilt-edged opportunity as he saw himself virtually in a one-on-one situation against Roland Muller but the Ceres stopper produced a brilliant double-save as parity was maintained until time expired for the end of the first half.

Three minutes after the restart, hosts FC Tokyo finally put themselves in front as a mix-up found defender Sei Muroya with the ball inside Ceres’ box who latched onto the opportunity with much conviction to beat Muller despite getting a hand on the ball.

Thirteen minutes later, the 2019 J1 runners up could have made it two goals up but Leandro’s strike just inside the D fizzled just wide of the far post as the hosts continued to pile on the pressure having seemingly adjusted already to the appallingly wet condition of the pitch.

True enough, FC Tokyo were able to find the back of the net once again, with Adailton pouncing on a good delivery from the right flank, only for the linesman to signal for offside which was harsh as replays showed a well-executed effort.

After a chipped shot by Adailton in the 72nd minute for FC Tokyo that beat Muller but missed the target, Mark Hartmann was introduced for Ceres in place of Dylan de Bruycker as the hosts were able to further impose themselves in the match.

A moment before the 80th minute, FC Tokyo were down to 10 men as Taichi Hara was given a straight red card for an elbow to Takashi Odawara’s forehead who needed treatment after being wounded from the contact.

Two minutes later, Ceres could have equalized from a set-piece but Super’s looping header was well anticipated by Tokyo’s sentry, Akihiro Hayashi.

In the 87th minute mark, Lopez Mendy saw his header fly wide and off the mark a set-piece. Another set-piece for the Filipino side saw Mendy with another chance to score with substitute James Younghusband on the support but the ball falling unkindly for the chance to pass.

And end-to-end action ensued immediately as what could be a penalty situation for Ceres was waived off with an opportunistic FC Tokyo pulling a quick counter for Adailton to be released, unleashing a crafty long-range strike that spectacularly found the back of the net and put the tie at rest in favor of the J1 side.

The result means FC Tokyo proceed to the group stage of the AFC Champions League, while Ceres-Negros FC will compete in the more familiar AFC Cup competition.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

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FC Tokyo: Ceres-Negros' toughest hurdle yet

Ceres-Negros may have achieved a monumental win against Thai club Port FC to book their place in the AFC Champions League 2020 playoff match but awaiting the busmen is probably their most difficult challenge yet: FC Tokyo.

Here’s a brief background on FC Tokyo focusing more on the club’s past season form and achievements and which players to watch out for.

FC Tokyo’s 2019 campaign

Despite coming short from winning the J1 title, the capital-based club had a stellar domestic league campaign last year finishing second (their best ever achievement since winning J2 and the Emperor’s Cup back in 2011, and returning to the top-flight).

For the most part of the 2019 season, from Week 8 to Week 27, FC Tokyo had led the league standings, until relinquishing their seat at the summit and struggling to regain it for good.

In conclusion, FC Tokyo finished the 2019 season with 64 points from 19 wins, 7 draws, and 8 losses – a total that was just six points shy from eventual league champions Yokohama F. Marinos.

A talented, dangerous squad

At the post-season J.League awards, officials have chosen six players from FC Tokyo as part of the season’s “Best XI” namely, Akihiro Hayashi (GK), Sei Muroya (DF), Masato Morishige (DF), Kento Hashimoto (MF), Kensuke Nagai (FW), and Diego Oliveira (FW/ST).

Out of the six players who received the end-of-season plaudits, striker Diego Oliveira proved to be a reliable target-man in his second season for the club by notching 14 goals which were good enough to be tied at second-best in the entire J1.

The fact that six players from the club made it to the standout players’ squad for the season speaks volumes of the capability that head coach Kenta Hasegawa has under his disposal. Add to those some of additional key players in the squad such as captain Keigo Higashi, Yojiro Takahagi, Kyosuke Tagawa, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, and a trio of Brazilian midfielders in their ranks, FC Tokyo indeed has a very imposing squad.

What are Ceres-Negros chances?

On paper: Slim. Very!

But it doesn’t mean that it’s already a lost cause for Ceres-Negros’ 13th destination in their Asian football odyssey (not at all!), as the Philippines’ league and cup champions have the tools to come up with a decent challenge and hopefully a surprise upset.

Even though Japan has a much better and matured football program, which includes its league system, it is to note that FC Tokyo, other than preseason friendlies, has yet to play a competitive fixture. This situation, similar to the to the previous match against Port FC, could be something that the busmen can exploit.

And given that Ceres-Negros are heading into this match as clear underdogs, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain – something that head coach Risto Vidakovic could take advantage of in motivating his wards.

Whoever will start for Ceres (with or without without talismanic midfielder and captain Stephan Schröck, due to card accumulation), they should bring with them and lay their best ever game on to the pitch of the Ajinomoto Stadium. If they ever execute that to a tee, then they have a good chance of achieving their greatest milestone in club history: Breaking through Asia’s biggest league in international club football – the AFC Champions League!

FC Tokyo vs Ceres-Negros FC AFC Champions League qualification playoff match will kick-off on January 28, 2020 at 7PM local time (6PM Philippine Time) and will be shown live on Philippine cable TV at FOX Sports 2.

Photo credit (Ajinomoto/Tokyo Stadium): FC Tokyo Facebook page

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Schröck wizardry lifts Ceres-Negros over Port

Stephan Schröck’s 52nd minute magic was enough to power Ceres-Negros towards a 1-0 win against Port FC in Bangkok last January 21 and setup an AFC Champions League Qualification Playoffs against FC Tokyo in Japan next week.

The busmen were presented an early threat moments after kick-off when OJ Porteria committed a foul, but Port failed to capitalize on the ensuing freekick.

Hosts and Thai FA Cup champions Port have been in command in the ball possession department in the early proceedings but the Filipino club were able to come up with a few promising moments as well.

But the Port Lions were able to come up with timely threats as the first chance forced Super Herrera to pull off a last ditch clearance, while an overhead attempt by Heberty in the tenth minute called Ceres keeper Roland Müller to action.

Ceres had the best chance in the first quarter of an hour as Bienvenido Maranon unleashed a shot on target inside Port’s box but goalkeeper Worawut Srisupa was equal to it.

After a few more moments, an almost identical play, this time involving Mike Ott who fed to Porteria gave Ceres another golden chance with a well-taken strike but Port’s net minder once again came up with a fine save.

The match experienced a few minutes of end-to-end action as Ceres-Negros eventually showed more attacking impetus, but both sides still remained in a deadlock.

Near the half-hour mark, Stephan Schröck committed a foul that merited a caution, but the free-kick that followed in favor of Port FC flew wide and off-target.

At around the 40th minute mark, a clever play from the hosts found Bordin Phala in the best position to unleash an effort and break the deadlock but the ball sailed high and wide to even bother Müller. That attempt have been the last big chance as half-time arrived with both teams goalless.

In the second half, defender Josh Grommen was introduced for Ceres-Negros, replacing the injured Super as action resumed with Port FC once again showing the initiative in the opening moments.

What followed though was a fortunate run of circumstances for Ceres-Negros as an awarded a corner kick was taken short towards Schröck whose teasing cross deceived Worawut, deflecting the ball into his own net as the visitors drew first blood in the 52nd minute and the busmen’s captain being awarded the goal.

The breakthrough seemed to have opened up the match as both sides had their share of half-chances. But it was the host team that tried to claw themselves back into the tie with some sustained level of pressure.

Port had their most promising attempt when Sergio Suarez was able to head the ball from close-range and unmarked but his effort just flew off target with Müller already beaten.

Despite Port’s constant knocking on Ceres’ door, with substitute Adisak Kraisorn seeing his goal-bound effort denied by the leg of Ceres defender Takashi Odawara near the 80th minute, the visitors were able to weather the storm to get a monumental win against the Thai FA Cup champions and setup a final qualifier playoff date against FC Tokyo in Japan.

Ceres-Negros will next face FC Tokyo away on January 28 for the final qualification for the AFC Champions League Group Stage.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

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OPINION: Ceres-Negros win ACL2020 campaign opener but concerns arise

Ceres-Negros FC pulled off possibly the best start early in its match against Shan United in the AFC Champions League Preliminary Stage, but a close final score showed concerns later in the tie as they head into their next challenge against a possibly much tougher Port FC.

As the Philippine domestic double champions continue their undefeated run and head to Bangkok in a week’s time to face Thailand’s domestic cup winners, here are some points of discussion on the busmen’s strengths and possible weaknesses to address as they bid to go further in their Champions League qualification campaign.

Immense frontline capability

Ceres-Negros showed their attacking might during their match against the Burmese champions as they dominated possession and peppered the visitors with attempts for the most part.

Robert Lopez Mendy, and Bienvenido Marañon got their goals, proving their striking ability for the busmen. With the additional firepower coming from attack-minded players such as Mike Ott and OJ Porteria (who also found the back of the net on top of a man of the match performance), and the creativity provided by Stephan Schröck and Hikaru Minegishi, Ceres were able to supply a sustained level of attacking verve and options that proved crucial in registering the goals they needed to get the required result.

Add to the fact that several options in attack and midfield ended up unused during the tie with the likes of creative midfielder Dylan de Bruycker and highly rated forward Mark Hartmann not seeing action in the fixture, shows that head coach Risto Vidakovic still has something up his sleeves heading into their next challenge in Thailand.

Seamless defense to attack transition

The busmen also demonstrated their signature knack for utilizing the ball well in a sense that building attacking plays from the defensive line seems to be fluid which gives significant credit to the defenders who are comfortable with the ball, and a very capable anchor provided by defensive midfielder Takashi Odawara.

Ceres’ ability to keep and distribute the ball well upfield from the backline is a testament to the club’s utilization of the midfield as an effective channel in helping create opportunities for the frontline.

Bannered by the leadership of veteran midfielder and captain Stephan Schröck who could operate as a “free radical” in the middle of the park with the role as one of the main catalysts on the offensive end, Ceres’ midfield definitely is its main power source that drives the entire black and yellow juggernaut forward.

Worrisome finishing

Obviously the first major concern shown by the busmen was their finishing, which leaves much to be desired. For the duration of the match, particularly in the first half, Ceres-Negros spurned some good chances that could have put them at least with a five goal-advantage and may have put the tie to end early, even if Shan United were able to register a few goals later on.

However, because of the wasted efforts, Ceres, can only maintain a two-goal lead in the match, making the business end of the clash against Shan United very much tense and in the balance when the visiting side were able to convert a second goal for a thrilling 3-2 finish with the hosts just doing enough to hold on for the win.

First-game jitters and rustiness may have come into play for Ceres’ forwards, understandably so in this situation, but with the icebreaking match already done, the need to be sharper is definitely paramount heading into their away match against a possibly tougher proposition against Thai FA Cup champions Port FC in less than a week’s time.

An unsettled defense

In the second half, Shan United were given hope when on several occasions, the Ceres-Negros backline was caught flat-footed, eventually leading to two goals by the Burmese champions that contributed for a nervy finish to the fixture.

With Carlie De Murga’s departure, the onus is on the remaining defenders and the newcomers to sync-in with each other and establish a reliable defense.

Super Herrera also seemed to have suffered a knock during the match that contributed to more lethargic marking, and if Super will not be 100 percent come the next match, it could be a main concern for coach Risto Vidakovic to maintain an effective line of defense.

Lack of match-fitness

Lastly it was obvious that the busmen came up short in sustaining the needed intensity from kickoff to the final whistle.

As the second half wore on, so did Ceres-Negros’ form. Such a dip in the busmen’s performance gave Shan United the opportunity to pounce on the slack they saw with the Burmese club’s pacy forwards, particularly Liberian Keith Nah, who marauded the host team’s flanks in the last throes of the match.

Such lack of fitness (which the coaching staff is probably anticipating already) is something that the team should be focused on heading into their match against Port FC in Thailand. Even though the Thai FA Cup champions may also have the same predicament having only a friendly match against Police Tero the past few days with the domestic league in Thailand yet to begin until February, it would be important for the Philippine champions to address this matter, easier said than done though, due to the domestic season is yet to begin in two months time.

Photo credit: Glen Charles Lopez / Ceres-Negros FC

Ceres-Negros squeeze past Shan United in five-goal thriller

Ceres-Negros FC stave off a late fightback to win their AFC Champions League Preliminary Round 1 match against Shan United FC, 3-2, last January 14 in Rizal Memorial Stadium.

The fixture began with hosts Ceres showing more attacking impetus in the early proceedings. However, an early stoppage was prompted when Super was clipped by a Shan United player in the second minute.

Soon enough, the attacking verve shown by Risto Vidakovic’s men was duly rewarded when Robert Mendy latched on to a Pika Minegishi assist from the left flank to break the deadlock and give his side a bright start in just the fifth minute.

In the eighth minute, OJ Porteria unleashed just a few yards outside the D with the intent of doubling the lead for the Philippine champions but his effort flew just wide of the right post.

A few moments later, Robert Mendy seemed to have found himself released by a well weighted pass from Stephan Schröck but the referee brandished a yellow card instead for a handball.

For the most part of the first half, the busmen were mostly on the ascendancy while visitors Shan United were mostly on the back foot, with chances limited on the few opportunities via the counter that were snuffed well by the hosts.

A free kick opportunity taken by Stephan Schröck in the 17th minute was well on-target but Shan United captain and goalkeeper Thiha Sithu anticipated the shot well for a timely intervention.

In the 21st minute of the proceedings a well-worked play by the Ceres frontline saw Bienve Marañon in a promising position to drive from range inside the box but his attempt flew just wide of the far post.

Three minutes later, a rare foray by Shan United into Ceres-Negros’ half came to naught as Roland Müller smothered what could have been a promising ball.

As the half hour mark arrived, a rare promising spell came in favor of Shan United as they were able to unearth a buildup play within the confines of Ceres’ penalty box but Super’s diligent marking was enough to break down the play.

Ten minutes before the half-time mark, Bienve was fouled by Shan defender Daniel Tagoe, who was cautioned with a yellow card by referee Ali Hasan Abdulnabi, but the ensuing freekick by the hosts was well managed by the visiting side.

In the 40th minute, Ceres finally doubled their lead as OJ Porteria crafted a well-placed cross for Marañon to tuck the ball into the back of the net from the center of the box as the break arrived with Philippines’ undefeated double champion enjoying a comfortable lead.

Three minutes after the restart, the hosts once again enjoyed a few gilt-edged chances as Mendy was released by a well-timed feed from Mike Ott, but his effort flew wide of the near post. Immediately, Porteria had a driven shot denied by the bar with Mendy’s follow-up going wide once again.

Ceres continued their relentless pursuit of the insurance goal as they dominated possession and crafted opportunities with Shan United crowding their box to weather the busmen’s barrage.

In the 56th minute, a Bienvenido Marañon effort off Mendy’s pass was denied by the bar as another chance came begging to put the tie well at rest in favor of the hosts.

A minute after the hour mark, Shan United may have seen their best chance of the match as an Abubakar freekick was deflected just narrowly wide of Müller’s far post.

In the 68th minute a scare came against Ceres as a defensive effort almost gifted the Burmese champions a consolation goal but Müller was able to come up with a timely save to keep the clean sheet.

But the visitors finally got a lifeline in the 73rd minute as Burmese forward Zin Min Tun headed in to pull a goal back as the defense was caught napping.

Ceres tried to pull off an immediate response, crafting at least three chances to no avail as the tie suddenly became more tense for both sides with fouls seemingly more aplenty.

A minute before the 80th minute mark, the hosts were able to restore their two-goal lead as OJ Porteria made sure of his attempt from close range as the match began to be more heated than ever before with cautions being given to both sides.

Three minutes before the 90th minute mark, Shan United reduced the deficit once again as Maximin scored with the hosts’ defense caught flat-footed. Not a minute has passed as the alarm bells rang once again for Ceres with Keith Nah curling just wide from the right flank from a counterattacking play.

Keith Nah turned to be the aggressor in favor of the Burmese side late in the match as his subsequent foray into the right flank forced a foul and a freekick which Nanda Kyaw was able to decently curl only to miss by a small margin.

Despite the late fightback and some nervous final moments, Ceres-Negros eventually got the crucial win to setup a match against Thai FA Cup champions Port FC in Thailand.

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Projected Starting XI: Ceres-Negros v Shan United

With PFL titleholders Ceres-Negros about to kick-off their season against Myanmar champions Shan United in the AFC Champions League 2020 preliminary match, here is how both teams’ starters may line up.

Ceres-Negros FC

Possible formations: 4-1-2-1-2 / 4-3-3

With a wealth of talents in their ranks, Coach Risto Vidakovic will have several options leading to some tough choices for his starters. But the busmen’s mentor might opt for a tried and tested midfield with a few changes up front given the club’s attacking reinforcements and the backline with Junior Muñoz and Jeffrey Christiaens’ return to fitness.

With a loaded squad, substitutions will be crucial for Ceres when it comes to the needed adjustments based on how the tie will pan out in the latter stages.

Shan United FC

Possible formations: 4-3-1-2/4-3-3/4-3-2-1

Shan United already played a competitive match domestically heading into their clash against Ceres-Negros and head coach might opt for the same set of starters with Liberian forward Keith Nah as the focal point in attack supported by Zi Min Tun and Maximin providing the creative element from the middle of the park.

An injury though to defender Nyein Chan from the recent league opener might merit a slight change for Shan United’s starting eleven, but it might just pave the way for Kyrgyz defender (of Ghanaian origin) Daniel Tagoe to slot in as a first-choice option in the backline.

Ceres-Negros vs Shan United kicks off on January 14 at 7:30PM in Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

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ACL2020 prelim: Ceres-Negros, Shan United to clash in 'Battle of the Undefeated'

It’s a battle between two undefeated clubs as Philippine double champions Ceres-Negros face Burmese counterparts Shan United in the AFC Champions League preliminary match on January 14.

Speaking during the prematch presser last Monday afternoon, January 13, coach Risto Vidakovic is anticipating a tricky and tough proposition ahead of their season opener.

“It’s going to be a very hard game, because it’s our first [match of the 2020 season]… I cannot say that we are ready 100%. We just had three training sessions. It’s the first game for us and nobody is [match] fit enough. But we have to forget all of the excuses. I’m not expecting from my players [as] it’s impossible to be prepared [in this situation]. But we want to win and I’m expecting everyone to give 100% on the game, that’s all I need [from them].

Ceres-Negros FC: Defender Sean Kane (left), Head Coach Risto Vidakovic (right)

Meanwhile defender Sean Kane also expressed the same sentiments as his mentor given the match being their first for the year’s set of campaigns but the Ceres stalwart believes that they have a chance if they execute well and maximize the talents at hand.

“We know how coach wants us to play. I’d say that we just [need to] follow the plan and try to get the new players on-board as soon as possible. We take tomorrow and prepare as well as we can.”

Ceres- Negros strengthened their squad for the upcoming 2020 season with the addition of forward Mark Hartmann, midfielders Hikaru Minegishi and Arnie Pasinabo, and defender Joshua Grommen in their already talented team.

But visiting side Shan United will definitely be no walk in the park as they are bannered with local standouts Zin Min Tun and Dway Ko Ko Chit with reinforcements provided by their foreign contingent with Kyrgyz defender Daniel Tagoe, Ivorian midfielder Maximin, Senegalese midfielder Abubakar and highly rated Liberian forward Keith Nah.

Shan United: Goalkeeper Thiha Sithu (left), Head Coach Aung Naing (center)

“For this match, we haven’t made big preparations [as] our league started a few days ago, so we already played one match locally. One of our key defenders got injured in that match, but we will still try our best to get a good result tomorrow,” said Shan United FC head coach Aung Naing.

Meanwhile goalkeeper Thiha Sithu already is familiar with the hosts and knows the significance of the task at hand, yet is still optimistic of his team’s chances.

“We have played Ceres-Negros three or four times already so we now that they are a very good team. We will play with respect for our opponents and at then play with unity. Hopefully we get a good result tomorrow.”

What makes the matchup interesting is the fact that both teams are to face each other coming from their successful campaigns last season without suffering a single defeat in their respective leagues.

“We have a good level of confidence heading into this match based on last year’s [undefeated domestic league campaign], but this year will be different and Ceres is a very good team. Last year we lost against them [in the AFC Cup] both home and away, but this year we will try to win,” added coach Aung Naing.

Ceres-Negros of the Philippines host Shan United of Myanmar on Tuesday, January 13, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:30PM. Admission is free while the match will be shown live on 5Plus while a delayed same day telecast will be broadcasted via One Sports at 10PM.