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Ceres-Negros, Than Quang Ninh share spoils in four-goal draw

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

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Azkals forward Mark Hartmann ends Ceres sojourn; joins PJ City

After a brief stay with Filipino champions Ceres-Negros FC, Philippine Azkals forward Mark Hartmann has completed another move, reportedly joining Malaysia Super League club Petaling Jaya City FC.

The development regarding his departure from Ceres has been confirmed yesterday by Hartmann himself via a social media post.

Although official confirmation has yet to be released, it is believed that his destination club is Petaling Jaya City FC, which in effect, completes its foreign quota in time for Malaysia Super League 2020 season.

Once the move is complete, 28-year old Hartmann is already no stranger to Malaysian club football as he already had previous stints with Sarawak FA and Penang FA respectively.

With the Filipino forward’s move away from Ceres, his short tenure as part of the busmen will be remembered for his contributions in the AFC Champions League 2020 qualification campaign where he featured as a substitute in the historic win over Thai club Port FC follow by the defeat against J1 League side FC Tokyo.

Before joining Ceres, Mark Hartmann played for Thai club Nakhon Ratchasima.

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Photo credit: The Azkals

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AFC Cup 2020 Boot Spotting: Ceres and Kaya creators in Group Stage Rd 1

The first round of AFC Cup 2020 group stage action concluded with Filipino clubs Ceres-Negros FC and Kaya FC-Iloilo getting positive starts, and they have their goal creators to thank for.

Without further delay here are the goal providers after the first round of matches in the AFC Cup.

OJ Porteria (WF/MF, Ceres-Negros: 2 Assists)

Provided Takashi Odawara’s 14th minute opening goal and Bienvenido Marañon’s second in the 70th minute, OJ Porteria was in his element for Ceres in their AFC Cup 2020 campaign opener against Svay Rieng FC.

One of the busmen’s crucial pieces in their offense, Porteria’s pace, ball-control and flair make him either a goalscoring threat or a creator of chances. And in this particular fixture, OJ has been an excellent feeder for his strike partners.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

OJ Porteria’s boots: Nike Mercurial Vapor 13 Elite “New Lights” pack

Stephan Schröck (MF, Ceres-Negros: 1 ASSIST)

The AFC Cup 2019 assists leader, Ceres captain Stephan Schröck provided another deceivingly dangerous cross that Joshua Grommen converted in the 14th minute.

Always a threat in set pieces, and a steady source of chances in the attacking third, Schroecky is definitely a catalyst for his club. And once again, one of his efforts ended up being guided into the back of the net.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

Stephan Schröck’s boots: Nike Tiempo Legend 8 Elite

Manuel Ott (MF, Ceres-Negros FC: 1 ASSIST)

After a season overseas, Manny Ott returns to Ceres-Negros FC. Arguably considered as the best creative midfielder in Philippine football, perhaps one of the best in Southeast Asia, his return produced an assist for Bienvenido Marañon in the 55th minute.

If Manny Ott already produced an assist in his return debut, then expect more chances and goals from him for Ceres as the campaign further unfolds both in the AFC Cup and the domestic league!

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

Manuel Ott’s boots: Nike Mercurial Superfly 6 Elite

Arnel Amita (MF, Kaya FC-Iloilo: 1 ASSIST)

Arguably the X-factor for Kaya FC-Iloilo against Shan United, just 10 minutes after being introduced into the match as a second half substitute, the impetus provided by Arnel Amita eventually led to the breakthrough as he was fouled inside the box meriting a penalty which Jovin Bedic converted.

After another ten minutes elapsed, Kaya found themselves two goals up as Eric Giganto unleashed a well-struck drive that drilled into the back of the net, with the feed courtesy of Amita’s well-timed pass. Now, talk about Mr. Quality Minutes!

Photo credit: Kaya FC-Iloilo

Arnel Amita’s boots: Nike Mercurial Superfly 6 Elite “LVL UP” pack

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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