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Azkals captain Stephan Schröck earns ASEAN Best XI plaudit

Fresh from being confirmed as the best creator in the recently concluded AFC Cup 2019 with his tournament-leading six assists, Philippine Azkals captain and Ceres-Negros midfield engine Stephan Schröck earned further citation after being included in AFF’s ASEAN Best XI.

The awarding happened during the AFF 2019 Awards Night which was held in the evening of November 8 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Aside from bagging the most number of assists in the continental tourney for Ceres-Negros, Schröck also helped his club win the Philippines Football League for the third straight time since the league’s inaugural season, with the latest 2019 title achieved without suffering a single defeat, as the busmen earned the Invincibles moniker that is traditionally reserved for teams that completed an undefeated league campaign.

With the Philippines Football League already secured, Stephan’s club Ceres-Negros FC are still on track in their bid to win the Copa Paulino Alcantara for a chance to achieve an unprecedented double in Philippine football’s professional era.

Completing the rest of the ASEAN Best XI with Stephan Schröck are Dang Van Lam (Vitenam/Muangthong Utd), Muhammad Syahmi Safari (Malaysia/Selangor FA), Que Ngoc Hai (Vietnam/The Cong FA), Muhammad Safuwan Baharuddin (Singapore/Pahang), Korrakot Wiriya-Udomsiri (Thailand/Buriram Utd), Mohamed Syamer Kutty Abba (Malaysia/Johor Darul Ta’zim), Sanrawat Dechmitr (Thailand/Bangkok Utd), Riko Simanjuntak (Indonesia/Persija Jakarta), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (Malaysia/Pahang), and Player of the Year Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam/Hanoi FC).

The Filipino international’s recent achievement is just the latest of a milestone-laden year as he captained the Philippine Azkals’ first ever campaign in the Asian Cup early this 2019 where he became the first ever goalscorer for the Philippines.

Photo credit: Stephan Schröck Instagram

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AFC Cup TOP HITMAN: Ceres-Negros’ Bienvenido Marañon

Ceres-Negros FC’s marksman Bienvenido Marañon has been certified as the top goalscorer with 10 conversions under his belt in the recently concluded 2019 AFC Cup continental football competition.

The Spanish forward’s efforts helped the Bacolod-based Busmen and reigning domestic league champions reach the ASEAN Zonal Semifinals.

Virtually Unstoppable

Marañon scored in almost all of the Filipino club’s fixtures in the group stage, save for one match, highlighted by his two hat-tricks with the first one against Vietnamese outfit Becamex Binh Duong held in Vietnam last March 12 that ended in a 1-3 win, followed by another stellar performance also in an away fixture against Shan United last April 16 that concluded to a 0-5 triumph.

Ceres-Negros’ continental campaign was only halted in its tracks by Hanoi FC in the ASEAN Zonal Semifinals knockout phase, but it wasn’t without a fight with the eventual top marksman scoring with a diving header in the 57th minute against the Vietnamese side in the first leg that was held last June 18 in Panaad Stadium.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

PFL sees century of goals breached as leadership for ‘top hitman’ takes shape

Ruthless and lopsided victories by Ceres Negros and Green Archers United this past weekend have racked up the total number goals scored in the Philippines Football League 2019 to 110 breaching the century-mark as we revisit who, at the moment, are the top scorers in the league.

With three matches completed recently, Ceres Negros scored a dozen of unanswered goals to beat hapless Air Force accompanied by a tightly contested 1-0 win by Kaya against Stallion in a simultaneous fixture that transpired last Saturday, July 13. The two matches were then followed by a 9-0 dismantling of Global FC by in-form Green Archers United the following day, Sunday.

The massive 22-goal haul produced during the course of the weekend has put the current PFL season’s goals tally to well beyond the 100-mark as we look at who are the league leaders when it comes to shaking the back of the net for their respective clubs. Of course, we will also tackle the top performing brands of boots so as to see if there are any surprise names that put their name on the Philippine pro-football map.

PFL TOP SCORERS

Tied at 5th Place: 3 Goals

  • Jovin Bedic (Kaya FC Iloilo)
  • Nathan Alquiros (Stallion Laguna)
  • Fitch Arboleda (Stallion Laguna)
  • Chima Uzoka (Stallion Laguna)
  • Jimuel Ariola (Green Archers Utd)
L-R: Arboleda, Bedic, Alquiros, Uzoka, Ariola

Tied at 4th Place: 4 Goals

  • Curt Dizon (Ceres Negros)
  • Marvin Angeles (Green Archers United)
  • Stephan Schröck (Ceres Negros)
L-R: Dizon, Schröck, Marvin Angeles

Tied at 3rd Place: 5 Goals

  • Mike Ott (Ceres Negros)
  • John Celiz (Green Archers United)
L-R: Mike Ott, John Celiz

2nd Place: 9 Goals

  • Jordan Mintah (Kaya FC Iloilo)

Marañon sits undisputed on the driver’s seat

On top of the standings is none other than Bienvenido Marañon.

Ceres-Negros’ lethal striker has already beaten the opposing defences 16 times making him the only one to get to double digits when it comes to scoring goals at this moment in the on-going season.

His telepathic understanding with talismanic midfielder Stephan Schröck where the Filipino international has been the provider for the Spaniard has been the biggest key producing seven of those goals from that tandem alone.

With the PFL 2019 still far from over, it can be expected that at this form, Marañon could score much more and may be well on his way to top the charts at the campaign’s conclusion.

TOP PERFORMING BOOTS

A total of seven football shoe brands have found the back of the net in the ongoing PFL 2019 season. Before we look into the top 3 most lethal footwear in the league here are the ones that made the list:

  • New Balance (1 goal)
  • Kipsta/Decathlon (1 goal) -> a welcome surprise!
  • Puma (2 goals)
  • Mizuno (4 goals)

TOP 2: ADIDAS Football

With 18 players who scored in the PFL wearing the three stripes on their feet, a total of 35 goals are attributed to the German brand with Jordan Mintah being at the forefront.

TOP 1: NIKE Football

Seemingly a favorite of most attacking players in the PFL with Ceres Negros midfield maestro Stephan Schröck as one of its leading disciples, 25 individuals found the back of the net while equipped with the swoosh brand for a whopping 59 goals all in all.

BIGGEST WINNER

Wait, where’s TOP 3?

Well, it’s been saved for last since the brand can be considered the biggest climber with respect to its relative profile compared to the other global brands and it’s none other than CONCAVE which has Bienvenido Marañon to thank for.

Ceres’ most lethal striker, despite being signed under the Australian brand, began the domestic campaign wearing a different pair of boots opting to limit the use of his Concave Halo’s for the AFC Cup campaign where the Spaniard turned out to be one of the best goalscorers.

Bienvenido Marañon and his Concave shoes

However, once The Busmen’s continental front has come to an end at the ASEAN Zone semifinals, Marañon began to wear Concaves in the PFL where he racked up eight goals in his Halo’s in just four matches to magically push the brand to third spot in the standings!

Now, the question is, with Marañon rocking a pair which does not have mainstream footprint in the Philippines (Concave Asia is based in Indonesia as per its Instagram account), can this influence the striker for a future move to a different country where the brand has a much more visible presence in the near future?

For now, it’s just purely speculation.

Photo credit: Philippines Football League

Philippines’ Martin Steuble completes transfer from Ceres to Thai club Port FC

After initial reports that Philippine international Martin Steuble has left Ceres-Negros FC, the defender has formally joined Thai League 1 club Port FC last July 4, 2019 ahead of its Saturday match against Ratchaburi Mitr Phol.

Steuble ended his competitive appearance for the defending Philippine domestic league champions as the team captain in the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone semifinals loss against Hanoi FC.

His addition to the Central Bangkok-based club for the second half of the 2019 season (with an option to extend until 2020 according to reports) serves as a reinforcement as the Port Lions aim to finish strong in the campaign with the possibility of still winning the league.

Port FC are currently, as of this writing, in fifth out of the 16-team Thai League 1 after 16 matches, trailing leaders Buriram United by only four points proving that the race to the top is still hotly contested.

Martin Steuble operates mainly at the left flank (sometimes at the right) as a defender, but he can also take the midfielder role. And even if his main duties lie on the defensive end, he can also contribute on the offense as a conduit and supplier from the wings, and he can also score from range. His one goal (against Stallion Laguna) and an assist (versus Global FC) in the still early 2019 PFL season are a testament to his ability to contribute and be an option in attack.

Hailing from Switzerland, Steuble started his career within the Swiss footballing system where he played in several clubs such as Neuchatel Xamax, Grasshopper Zurich, Lausanne-Sport, FC Wohlen, and FC Wil. He also had a brief stint in the United States’ Major League Soccer with Sporting Kansas City before a significant spell with Ceres-Negros in the Philippines.

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Balancing it all out…crochet

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Martin Stueble also suited up for the Philippine Azkals, amassing 39 caps with three goals. The 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign under legendary head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, which reached the semifinals stage, was his latest participation with the national team to date.

Port FC face Ratchaburi Mitr Phol in an away match on Saturday July 6, 2019.

Photo credit: Port FC

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Azkals defender Alvaro Silva unveiled by Thai club Suphanburi

After formally confirming his departure from Ceres-Negros FC last week, Filipino international Alvaro Silva joins Thai League 1 club Suphanburi FC as posted by the club through its official social media channel.

Silva fills in an ASEAN quota for the club, with two more slots available. It is to note that fellow Filipino footballer, forward Mark Hartmann, has transferred out of the club to join Nakhon Ratchasima last week.

35-year-old Silva comes into the club as a vastly experienced veteran with stints in Spain, particularly in Spanish clubs Malaga, Cadiz, and Xerez before having extensive tenures overseas, especially in Asia, where Philippine league champions Ceres-Negros has been his last stop before moving to Thai League for the first time in his career.

The Filipino colossus will have a tough task of helping his new club for the second half of the 2019 season as the War Elephants fight out of the League 1’s relegation zone which, currently, is precariously placed at 15th place out of the 16-team league.

On the international front, Silva has played as a starting defender for the Philippine Azkals in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup and the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Silva can suit up competitively in the Thai League 1 as soon as Sunday, July 7, in an away fixture against top team Buriram United.

Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

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5 minutes of added time with Ceres head coach Risto Vidaković

Ceres-Negros FC holds the distinction of being the only Filipino club to reach the knockout stage of the AFC Cup in their history of participation in the tournament proper. One of the biggest factors in the Negrense side’s ability to go far in those international campaigns is none other than Coach Risto Vidaković .

The Serbian head coach has been instrumental in The Busmen’s rise to prominence, making a name not just in Philippine football, where he guided his talented squad to back-to-back PFL championships, but also on the Asian front with some watershed moments and wins against more fancied sides during the AFC Champions League qualifications and AFC Cup tournaments.

Now in the midst of the 2019 season of the AFC Cup, Ceres-Negros once again head into the ASEAN Zone Semifinals. As they gear up for the first leg match against Hanoi FC in Panaad in a fortnight, here are a few words of wisdom and insights from the mentor himself which he shared with the 5th Minute of Added Time right before a training session.

The first thing to be brought up was on what has been Coach Risto’s inspiration on Ceres-Negros’ highly technical approach to the game, to which the gaffer responded that it boils down mainly to the type of players at his disposal.

“It depends on the players. We have that kind of players who are small, but technically good and fast. We cannot (apply) another kind of football because it’s very hard to play long balls if you don’t have tall players so we try instead to play with our build-up and passing game – a playmaking type of football. I just adapt on the type of players that we have.”

With regards to his influences in football, particularly the teams that impacted him the most when it comes to the philosophy and style (or even the culture) of play, Coach Risto responded that it is more of the country that influenced him the most.

“I played a long time in Spain and (been involved with) Spanish football. I’m already (living for) twenty-five years in Spain. I’ve coached there, and I think it’s the country that I bring with me (when it comes to) the style of football. Spanish football is known to be having technical and very good (style of) football.”

Touching on the most influential coaches and managers, Coach Risto was asked on the matter to which he replied by mentioning one name.

“You know, every coach has his own philosophy. The styles of football which are played now, and everywhere… you can choose. You can play defensively, you can play offense-minded football, but everyone also chooses the style (in consideration of the type of) his players.

“It’s up to you what (style) you want to recognize and what you need, and to adapt the best for your players. It’s not easy.

“I had many coaches in my career. One of them is, of course, Luis Aragonés. I learned a lot from him and he is practically the man who built the Spanish National Team that won the European Cup under him and the same team that won the World Cup later and many titles after him. I think he is (the one) who made the team. I was lucky to have him as a coach and I think he influenced me.”

Risto Vidaković  may have begun his footballing career in Serbia, reaching such a high level to the point of playing for one of the country’s biggest clubs, Red Star Belgrade, before moving to Spain in 1994. His opportunity to play under the famed Spanish coach, Aragonés, who guided La Roja to the Euro 2008 title, happened during the 1997-98 season in Real Betis where the legendary coach mentored the club for a season.

Lastly, on how he wants to be remembered when it comes to his legacy with Ceres-Negros, Risto Vidaković simply replied:

“I think what we did is already something historic. It’s there. Nobody can change it. What we did for these past three years is not easy – to be in the finals of the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone two times in a row (2017, 2018), and this year (2019) when we are on the way to the semifinals against a tough opponent and hopefully be in the finals again… I hope Philippine football can recognize that.

In parting, Ceres-Negros FC’s architect of its seemingly on-going “golden age” in professional club football stated his hopes for the beautiful game in the country.

“I hope Philippine football can grow and it can bring the crowd to the stadiums to watch football because I think the Filipino is very talented for football. I think it’s the perfect sport for the Filipino. Because Filipinos have the perfect profile, they’re fast, and technically very good (with the right training). And I think if we can bring many kids to play football then we don’t have to worry about the future (of the sport).

“But for now, we are still building something that is very far away from (the level that) we need (to be at).”

Head coach Risto Vidaković and his Ceres-Negros FC squad are set to face Hanoi FC for the first leg of the 2019 AFC Cup ASEAN Zone Semifinals on Tuesday, June 18 at the Panaad Stadium while the away leg in Hanoi, Vietnam is set on June 25.

Photo credit: Philippines Football League

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The machine that is Ceres-Negros

Filipino football club Ceres-Negros has established itself as the undisputed kings of football in the country at present, and they’re making big strides internationally as well. A recent release in the AFC club rankings by footyrankings.com put them almost at the top of the ASEAN region as of May 22, 2019.

Looking at their significant achievements in the past few seasons, it awe-inspiring as to what made this Western Visayas club reach such heights in such a short period of time since its founding in 2012.

Let’s take a look into some of the many things that made Ceres-Negros such a machine in Philippine and Southeast Asian club football.

Winning culture

Since their existence as a competitive club, The Busmen – as they have been fondly known, have been relentless in their pursuit of winning the tournaments that they’ve participated in.

Source: Ceres-Negros FC

From their participation in the PFF National Men’s Club Championship in 2012, up to the 2018 Philippines Football League (PFL) campaign, Ceres-Negros were able to win every single year with 2016 as the only exception when they failed to successfully defend their United Football League Division 1 title ending as runners-up.

Right from its inception, tasting success for the first time seemed to have made them addicted to it that driving the club to mount an era of domination, which they did for the past few years.

Risto Vidakovic: Mastermind at the helm

The early glory years of the club in the domestic scene from 2012 to 2016, when they were then known as Ceres-LaSalle, can be attributed to Filipino head coaches Ali Go and Frank Muescan, and Korea’s Cha Seung-ryong. A potential for greatness was paved in these early years. But come 2016, a new head coach, Risto Vidakovic, took the reins with the rest of Philippine club football not knowing the current great era that is about to transpire from the island of Negros.

A Serbian who started his playing  career in his home country with Sarajevo and Red Star Belgrade, Coach Risto eventually moved to Spain in the mid-90’s where he played for top flight clubs Real Betis and Osasuna. After his playing days have come to an end he then embarked on a head-coaching career in Spain with clubs such as Cadiz and Osasuna, then briefly managing in Honduras before that all-crucial move to the Philippines to be the mentor of a very promising Ceres-Negros team.

Ceres-Negros Head Coach Risto Vidakovic

What followed in his tenure as head coach could be considered as the one that ushered the club’s highest point in its current history. The system and type of football that Coach Risto introduced proved to be ruthlessly effective in the domestic front. Add to those the astute acquisitions that the club as made with regards to the type of players who came into the club and his technical approach proved to be a perfect fit that propelled the squad to surprising, yet well-deserved results. 

Also, the creation of a fully professional league in the country (the PFL) and the Filipino club teams’ eligibility to participate in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) tournaments that began the previous year provided the perfect storm towards an unprecedented golden age for the club as Coach Risto guided his wards to uncharted territories for each campaign with milestone upon milestone of results.

The journey of 2017

2017 season would prove to be the watershed for the Bacolod-based club as it achieved the distinction of becoming the first ever champions of the PFL. To top it all off, on the international club competition front, Ceres became the first Filipino club to conquer the ASEAN zone of the AFC Cup and reach the Interzone semifinals.

During that campaign, the Busmen were able to defeat Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim and Singapore’s Home United in the process, only for their progress to the Interzone finals be halted by Istiklol of Tajikistan.

That year most probably put Ceres on the map of Asian football as one of the fast-rising clubs in the continent. The players who led the way then, Stephan Schröck, Manny Ott, Iain Ramsay, and Bienvenido Marañon, to name a few, further endeared them to the club’s passionate fans.

The particular season instilled a certain belief to the squad that was able to spill into the early part of the 2018 campaign when The Busmen were able to reach the playoff stage of the AFC Champions League qualification only to be stopped in their tracks by Anthony Modeste and the rest of a then formidable Tianjin Quanjian of China which boasted internationally recongnizable players such as Alexandre Pato of Brazil and Axel Witsel of Belgium.

A legacy “in-progress”

With another PFL title and an appearance in the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone Final in 2018 Ceres-Negros no doubt are in the midst of building a lasting legacy for their young history as a club while in this period of domestic dominance and international repute. In spite of these amazing progress that the club is experiencing, Coach Risto himself is still in awe of what the club has achieved.

“It’s very hard to explain (this level of success) because nobody expected it. I think what we reached, especially in becoming on of the best Southeast Asian clubs in the AFC ranking is a long way, especially the three years that (passed) in the AFC competitions. It’s not easy to (achieve) that,” Vidakovic shared.

The coach also mentioned the ownership who helped make all things possible from a financial standpoint.

“Especially, it’s a big effort from the owner of the club (Leo Rey Yanson) to keep these players together, to invest so (much) money in football in a country where football is not so important. Where football is not the number one sport.

“It’s something that, maybe, nobody could recognize now. (But) maybe in the future, somebody will talk about it,” added the gaffer.

Indeed, Ceres-Negros will not reach its current status as a now internationally recognized club in Asia if not for the monumental efforts and resources provided by club owner and chairman Leo Rey Yanson who, with his passion, has given so much to put the club to its relatively lofty heights in the Philippine football setup.

La Maquina

This Ceres-Negros team, as an organization, has been doing wonders not just in the city that they represent, but the whole club football scene in the Philippines. Consider the people of Bacolod blessed in pro-football because of this.

In this modern and internet-dominated world, it’s hard to believe that a legend is brewing in Philippine football right at this moment. But that is what’s happening with Ceres-Negros and it is possible that they are creating a blueprint for other Filipino clubs to follow or even improve upon in the future.

Given the delayed growth of football in the Philippines as a spectator sport, Ceres-Negros’ current rise is hard to compare with the current giants of the game. Barcelona? Manchester United? Liverpool? Not quite.

The tradition and lore, is yet to be fully established for this club. But their reputation is on an exponential trajectory making this particular phase of their existence something that will define them later on.

These past few years are what is building Ceres-Negros’ legend, and the parallelism for this exciting new club in Southeast Asia is hard not to be compared to. That comparison goes to somewhere in time when it shares a bit of a resemblance with – back to an era when football was at its inflection point towards being the most popular in the world, back to almost 80 years ago in Argentina when River Plate forged its legend from that stellar 1940’s squad.

River Plate 1940’s

One of the biggest teams in Argentina and in the footballing world in terms of historic significance, River Plate of Buenos Aires became what it is because of a generation of players who played a style of football so pleasing to the eye. Along with the flair came a string of successful league campaigns that built its lore, earning the hefty moniker “La Maquina” (The Machine).

The mechanical element in this label does not denote monotony or boring repetition. On the contrary, it’s more of a general picture of artfulness in terms of the intricacy and complication in that particular squad’s game, a melding of elements working together for a bigger purpose, like a magnum opus of a Swiss master watchmaker that never fails to mesmerize with its complexities and features.  

This is the similar ethos that Ceres-Negros seem to share and exhibit, creating a reputation of positive football with a certain level of excellence that is catching the attention of their peers not just locally, but even overseas.

But it wasn’t a philosophy borne out of a whim for The Busmen, but out of necessity according to Coach Risto Vidakovic.

“I think (our) style of play depends on the players. We have small players, but are technically very good, (and) fast. And I think we cannot practice another kind of football because it’s very hard to play long balls if you don’t have tall players (up front) so we try to build up (and) play a passing game – playmaking football… I just adapt on the conditions of the players.”

In the end, it’s an adaptation resulting to a playing style that became the club’s strength and signature, and it was demonstrated to the fore during the recently concluded group phase of the 2019 AFC Cup campaign where The Busmen amassed a 57% average possession with an 83% passing accuracy.

With back-to-back domestic titles in the professional era, and a consistency shown by reaching the knockout phase on the continental front in the AFC Cup, the results and milestones have been a testament to the effectivity of Ceres-Negros’ current playing philosophy as it pushes them to further establish themselves in club football.

Technical, intricate, dynamic, effective – these words describe the current system of play that Bacolod’s men in yellow manifest on the pitch as they continue to carve their path and set the bar in Philippine club football as a unit.

Philippines’ “La Maquina” – Ceres-Negros FC – powering the bus into high gear.

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Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC