A heated encounter between Philippine champions Ceres-Negros FC and Vietnamese side Than Quang Ninh FC ended in a battling 2-2 draw in the AFC Cup 2020 Group G match held in Rizal Stadium last February 25.
In the early proceedings, the match exhibited a stop-start pace as both sides tried to weigh each other, exhibiting physicality, with some fouls committed on both ends.
But at the seventh minute, the hosts showed signs with regards to their capabilities on the attack, particularly on the wing play at the right flank with OJ Porteria and Robert Lopez Mendy almost connecting.
A good run of spell in possession followed for Ceres-Negros as they were able to dictate the proceedings in the moments that followed.
At the 14th minute, Than Quang Ninh had a decent chance though to score the breakthrough off a corner kick, but the headed attempt just flew wide of the near post as it remained a stalemate after the first quarter of an hour.
Despite the threat, the busmen were able to regain their bearings as they dictated once again the match with a promising chance arriving in the 24th minute as Stephan Schrock produced a teasing low pass across the opposition’s goalmouth only for the ball to marginally avoid the lurking forwards, Bienvenido Maranon and Lopez Mendy.
However that chance proved to be something that they would immediately rue as the Vietnamese side found themselves in front in the 26th minute after capitalizing on a defensive error with forward Jermie Lynch guiding the ball with such precision to find the back of the net.
Ceres immediately tried to respond with two consecutive chances from headers, but the equalizer proved elusive with half an hour gone.
Six minutes later, Manuel Ott tried a speculative effort, but his attempt to pull off something spectacular came to naught as the shot missed the target.
However a late first-half drama ensued. As the hosts desperately tried to claw their way and come up with an equalizing goal, Bienvenido Maranon was fouled inside the box promoting Malaysian referee Mohd Amirul Rizwan to point to the spot.
The aggrieved Maranon, duly took the penalty with such audacity, converting a chipped effort to put the tie well in the balance, as both sides head into the break sharing a goal each.
After the restart, both sides went off the blocks by employing high pressure on both ends, trying to catch the opposition on the counter.
Nine minutes into the second half, after a well-worked passing play, Bienve Maranon found himself in a position to unleash and put Ceres ahead, but his lobbed effort went over the bar.
A similar situation faced Robert Lopez Mendy a few moments after but also his attempt went sky high.
In the 61st minute, after an excellent play initiated by Porteria that found Maranon, the ball eventually found Manuel Ott without opposition but his shot hit the bar.
That miss will not be much of a concern for the busmen in the next minute though, as Porteria eventually gave his side the lead, firing low from an angle that beat Than Quang Ninh keeper, Huyn Tuan Linh to send the stadium into raptures.
With the onus now on the visiting side to come up with a leveller, the hero miners eventually got what they were searching for in the 70th minute after a mix-up inside Ceres-Negros’ box gave midfielder Nguyen Hai Huy enough window for an opportunistic strike that caught Ceres keeper Roland Muller stranded and hushing the Rizal Memorial crowd into stunned silence.
Six minutes later another and the Vietnamese side produced another scare for the Philippine champions as another shot from range unleashed just scraped outside Muller’s left post, escaping what could definitely be a complicated deficit.
As both clubs searched for the wining goal, eventually the tie ended in a draw as both sides split points in Group G.
Ceres-Negros will next face Indonesian champions Bali United on March 11 in Rizal Stadium in what could be considered as the busmen’s biggest test yet in the early phase of this year’s continental tournament.
Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC