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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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Ceres-Negros dominate in AFC Cup 2020 opener

Ceres-Negros FC put up a convincing team performance en-route to a 4-0 win against Cambodian champions Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC in the AFC Cup 2020 group stage opener last February 11, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Visitors Svay Rieng employed a high tempo from the get-go forcing Ceres-Negros to match the same intensity. The end-to-end dynamics provided Robert Lopez Mendy with an opportunity to test the opposing goalkeeper unleashing from distance in the fourth minute, only to miss the target.

In the eighth minute, Lopez Mendy once again was given a chance this time in a much better position to shoot inside the box but his attempt was so wayward.

Right in the 13th minute, Ceres-Negros finally got the breakthrough with Takashi Odawara’s low shot from the edge of the box finding the back of the net near the far post to put the hosts in front well within the first quarter of an hour.

A minute later and it was two goals up for the busmen as another goal was scored with Josh Grommen slotting in Stephan Schrock’s delivery to put the hosts at a much better situation.

Ceres-Negros were a bit on the upper-hand for the most part until the 22nd minute when a penalty was called against the hosts as Josh Grommen has been adjudged to have committed an infraction inside the box. However, Svay Rieng failed to capitalize from the spot as Ceres keeper Roland Muller produced a fine save to deny Thiago Dos Santos and maintain the two-goal difference.

Despite the bright start for the Filipino side, Cambodian champions Svay Rieng continued to be dangerous with their pacy approach to the game, especially on the counterattack.

But the early goals proved enough as the first half concluded with the busmen firmly in control heading into the break.

Ten minutes after the restart, Ceres-Negros once again found the back of the net for the third time after a slick linkup play found Spanish striker Bienvenido Maranon at an angle who was still able to squeeze the ball past goalkeeper Aim Sovannarath.

Around the hour mark and the moments after, Svay Rieng had some good spells on their own, but with the half-chances presented to them, coach Risto Vidakovic’s men were equal to those as the breakthrough was hard to come by for the visitors.

At the stroke of the 70th minute, Maranon once again found the back of the net after a well-worked effort from OJ Porteria to carve the opening and lay-off a pass for his teammate to convert and put the tie virtually out of reach for the visitors.

Ceres-Negros will next face Vietnamese club Thanh Quang Ninh at Rizal Memorial Stadium on February 25, at 7:30 PM.

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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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

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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.

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Ceres-Negros anticipate arduous AFC Champions League 2020 campaign

Philippine football’s domestic double champions, Ceres-Negros FC, are once again set to embark on their continental campaign for 2020 by facing Myanmar’s national league titleholders Shan United in the AFC Champions League preliminary round one match this January 20, 2019 at the Rizal Stadium.

Already qualified for the AFC Cup Group Stage, the Busmen are looking to take their chances with the hopes of qualifying for the group stage of Asian club football’s highest level of competition.

But it won’t be a walk in the park as stated by Head Coach Risto Vidakovic during the Philippine Sportswriters’ Association Forum last January 8 when it came to their first assignment Shan United given both competing clubs are virtually playing their first matches of their respective seasons with new key player acquisitions.

“This game is very important for us. If we want to go to the next round, we have to fight for it,” shared the Serbian mentor who was also quick to provide on how tricky the task at hand is going to be for his squad.

“[But] nobody knows what is going to happen [in the match] because both teams are going to play their first games [of the season]. Nobody knows how they are and how we are [tactically]. We’ll [have to] see.”

Ceres team captain Stephan Schröck stated that the team’s mindset is on winning their qualification campaign opener.

“It’s always on winning. Regardless if we are prepared or if we have a short time together or long time together (as a team), it’s always about winning… The mindset is prepared. Let’s see if the body will follow.”

Burmese club Shan United are coming into the match as Myanmar’s representatives after winning the 2019 National League undefeated, bannered by local standout forwards Zin Min Tun and Dway Ko Ko Chit. But their crucial acquisition in the offseason is Liberian striker Keith Nah who just played for rivals Ayeyawady United the previous campaign, scoring 10 goals.

Ceres-Negros have just completed getting the services (as of this writing) of Azkals striker Mark Hartmann who previously played for Thai club Nakhon Ratchasima, winger Hikaru Minegishi (formerly of JL Chiang Mai United), defender Josh Grommen (from Sukhothai FC), and Arnie Pasinabo (from Kaya FC) as reinforcements for the upcoming season. Meanwhile the current confirmed departures from the Philippine champions are midfielder Miguel Tanton, team captain Carlie De Murga (rumored to be heading to Thai club Chonburi) and youngster Charles Barberan.

If Ceres-Negros successfully get a positive result against Shan United, they proceed to preliminary round 2 where they will face Thai FA Cup champions Port FC in a week’s time in Thailand who have former Ceres captain and Azkals defender Martin Steuble in their ranks. And if ever the Busmen get through against Port, they go to Japan to face J1 league powerhouse Kashima Antlers as their final hurdle towards breaking through the Champions League group stage.

Ceres-Negros vs Shan United AFC Champions League preliminary round one kicks off  in Rizal Memorial Football Stadium on January 14, 2019 at 7:30PM.

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PFL Team of the Week 2

Four matches involving six clubs in a long match-week, interrupted by a midweek holiday, have been the basis of this second edition of PFL Team of the Week.

MATCH RESULTS:

June 1: Air Force 0-3 Stallion Laguna; Global 0-8 Ceres-Negros
June 2: Mendiola 1-5 Green Archers United
June 8: Mendiola 1-1 Air Force

A dominant performance by Ceres-Negros FC means that all their starters could make the Team of the Week, but with some commendable performances from the other two victorious clubs, it would be fair to pick some choice players who made a mark for their respective teams as well.

FORMATION: 3-4-3

Center Forward: Bienvenido Marañon (Ceres-Negros FC)

Source: PFL

Ceres-Negros’ Spanish forward propelled The Busmen to their second straight win in three matches by scoring four goals as they went on a rampage against Global FC with an 8-0 result.

The haul also put Marañon on top of the goals tally with a total of eight conversions under his belt.

Such an output and lethal performance makes him the undisputed front-man in this three-pronged attack-line for this week’s standouts’ roster.

Left Winger/Striker: Mike Ott (Ceres-Negros FC)

Source: PFL

Filipino international Mike Ott has logged in a productive shift for the Bacolod-based club against Global, scoring from the penalty right before halftime break and assisting a Mahir Karić goal late in the second half.

The pacy forward, who operates wide and lurks from deep outside the box at times, has shown his array of capabilities in this fixture. And although he started at the right side of the pitch opposite an equally speedy Curt Dizon, his versatility to operate on the other side of the pitch, as demonstrated later on in the match, makes him an effective left winger in this week’s TOTW lineup.

Secondary Striker: Val Jurao (Green Archers United)

Source: PFL

Former FEU front-man Val Jurao showed composure and impeccable positioning in two different occasions that led to his brace, helping his team Green Archers United get a comfortable 5-1 win over Mendiola FC.

A constant live-wire for coach Joel Villarino up front, the striker’s abilities give Green Archers United, which is on its second straight win, an added dimension to its offense along with strike partners, Christian Zubiri and John Celiz.

Left Attacking Midfielder: Jo Warren Bedia (Stallion Laguna)

Source: Arturo Rafael Enriquez / Stallion Laguna

Initially fielded at the left side of the park, Bedia eventually became more involved with Stallion’s front-line where his craftiness and excellent positioning produced two poacher’s goals against Air Force that ended in a 3-0 win for the Biñan-based club.

Bedia’s breakout performance as a starter may have given coach Ernest Nierras an assurance that his squad’s attacking quality remains intact in the midst of forward Abou Sy’s absence through injury.

Such capabilities displayed against Air Force also puts Jo Warren in this edition’s Team of the Week as a deceptive midfielder with the license to move forward in attacking situations.

Central Midfielder: Stephan Schröck (Ceres-Negros FC)

Source: PFL

The Azkals’ current captain once again showed his immense quality with Ceres-Negros as a spark-plug and creator either with his runs or telling passes towards his teammates in front of goal.

One of Schröck’s efforts resulted to another feed for another goal by Bienvenido Marañon, putting the midfield maestro as the sole leader in the assists tally with two. Ceres’ midfield talisman definitely earns his spot into this edition of TOTW.

Central Midfielder: Paolo Bugas (Green Archers United)

Source: PFL

The former FEU star and Global-Cebu stalwart produced a Man of the Match performance for Green Archers United against Mendiola by dictating the proceedings from the middle of the park.

His well-weighted passes and overall ball-distribution have been crucial for the Green Archers’ success, particularly in their latest assignment against Mendiola. To top it all off, Bugas’ pass led to a spectacular Florian Pasilan goal early in the second half.

Such a commendable shift makes Paolo Bugas one of the midfield game changers in this week’s squad.

Right Midfielder: Nathan Alquiros (Stallion Laguna)

Source: Arturo Rafael Enriquez / Stallion Laguna

Despite seeing his attempt from the penalty spot saved during Stallion’s match against Air Force, the midfielder continued to contribute for his team initiating attacks or linking with his teammates from the midfield.

His efforts eventually paid off by scoring his club’s third goal of the fixture and making up for the earlier missed chance he had.

Defender: Jeffrey Christiaens (Ceres-Negros)

Source: PFL

Jeffrey Christiaens put in a solid performance on the defensive end for Ceres against Global while marauding the left flank in attacking situations and providing a steady feed of chances for his team to work on.

A goal scored late in the game proved to be the icing on the cake for Christiaens that further solidifies his place in this edition of TOTW.

Defender: Christian Nana (Stallion Laguna)

Source: PFL

Stallion Laguna’s Senegalese defender stamped his authority in the match against Air Force, not only in being one of the sentinels for Coach Ernest Nierras, but he also on occasions been involved in pushing the ball upfield and initiating the attack.

A clean-sheet, with the opponents generally kept at bay, is enough evidence of an immense defensive performance by the backline in which Nana has been a significant factor.

Defender: Martin Steuble (Ceres-Negros)

Source: PFL

Martin Steuble’s defensive efforts for Ceres against Global produced a convincing one-sided win by keeping the opposition well in check and scoreless.

Aside from his expected role on the defensive end, he was also able to contribute to the attack producing an assist for Bienvenido Marañon towards the business end of that particular match.

Goalkeeper: Roland Müller (Ceres-Negros)

Source: PFL

Ceres’ domination of this TOTW’s lineup ends with Roland Müller, who was able to pull an almost complete turn-around from his previous lackluster performance against Stallion with a clean sheet against Global.

It wasn’t an easy shift for the former Azkals’ shot-stopper though as he was called into action in some occasions, forcing him to make crucial saves as Global were desperate in their attempts to reduce the deficit, to no avail.

Such clean-sheet for a bounce-back performance is enough to put Roland Müller as the keeper in this edition of Team of the Week.

Photo credit: Philippines Football League Facebook page

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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

PFL 2019: Opening day talking points

Pro-football is alive once again in the country as the third season  of Philippines Football League (PFL) has finally commenced with a double header concluding in Rizal Memorial Stadium last Saturday, May 25, 2019.

The first fixture, which kicked off late in the afternoon saw Copa Paulino Alcantara champions Kaya-Iloilo as the winners after registering a comfortable 4-0 win against league newcomers Green Archers United. 

The almost one-sided match was then followed by a highly anticipated clash between defending champions Ceres-Negros and a much reinforced Stallion Laguna which delivered on its hype, ending in a 2-2 draw in what could possibly a meeting between two of the three clubs that could be the Philippines’ next AFC tournament representatives.

With four of the total seven teams already done with their first assignments, here are the initial talking points regarding the league after the start of Season 3:

Battle for trophy and AFC spot could be the toughest yet

With Stallion Laguna surprising Ceres – considerably the best club in the country at present – with a 2-2 draw, it is possible that the Bacolod-based club’s predictable domination of seasons past could be coming to an end.

Although The Busmen are still being tipped to win this season for the first and outright AFC Champions League or AFC Cup berth, Coach Risto Vidakovic’s men could be pushed to the limit to wrest their third PFL trophy, with a slim chance of even coming up short it if they slip up in the same way as they have shown in the draw against Stallion.

With Coach Ernest Nierras’ Biñan-based club hungry to build a run of positive results after two seasons of inconsistencies, add to that Coach Noel Marcaida and his Kaya-Iloilo wards’ drive to be back in the continental stage after falling short in surviving the 2019 AFC Cup group stage, Ceres should be wary of their backs as they attempt to maintain the pace and keep setting the standard in Philippine club football, particularly their continental ambitions.

TV would still help a lot (on top of livestream)

It is such a shame that the scintillating match between Ceres and Stallion flew under the radar for the most part due to unavailability of traditional live media such as TV and radio. Same thing with the quality of Kaya Iloilo and the potential of Green Archers United that were shown during the earlier fixture.

But given the situation with the PFL being revived in haste due to valid circumstances that significantly delayed the season’s start, a TV (or even radio) deal is yet to be confirmed.

Yes, livestream on the internet has been a very helpful form to fill the void, but the medium still has some limitations that limit the matches’ full accessibility to the masses particularly to the fanbases outside Metro Manila such as Bacolod and Iloilo (even Biñan to an extent).

Hopefully, a reasonable TV deal could be ironed out and matches will be aired soon.

Interesting campaigns for newcomers and rebuilding clubs

Despite Green Archers United turning out to be on the receiving end of a comprehensive 4-0 beating at the hands of “Man of the Match” Jordan Mintah and the rest of Kaya, the vanquished squad actually showed glimpses of their quality and potential particularly in the second half.

joel-villarino-gau

Head Coach Joel Villarino’s wards could actually face a much realistic litmus test in this league when they face co-league debutants Air Force and Mendiola FC 1991, as well as a rebuilding Global Makati (which they face on May 29).

At the moment (on paper at least), there seems to be a demarcation line on the quality of the pool of competitors in the PFL as the most probable top three (Ceres, Kaya and Stallion) would likely pull away from the rest of the pack in their quest for the trophy and a continental berth, while the four new and rebuilding clubs would battle it out for the honor of being the best of the rest.

It would be very much welcome if this assumed gap in quality be proven wrong as the season comes to a conclusion, and at least one of the four aforementioned clubs predicted to be in the bottom four would end up in the top three. But for now, it is just refreshing to see these league newcomers, yet established names in the Philippine footballing community, compete in the top flight and show their distinct styles of play.

Photo credit: PFL