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