December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Ceres in an all-important AFC Cup fixture; Global out to stay on top

LOCAL CLUB Ceres Negros FC returns to AFC Cup action today, needing a victory to keep its tournament hopes alive.

Currently at third spot in Group G with a record of one win, two draws and a loss and five points, Ceres takes on group leader Hanoi FC (2-2-0 and eight points) of Vietnam in a virtual game of survival at the Pana-ad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City.

A win thrusts the “Busmen” back into contention for the much-coveted group leadership, which if they are able to hold on to till the end would allow them to advance to the next round. A loss, however, could well mean the end for their campaign in the region’s secondary club football tournament hosted by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Ceres found itself needing to chart a difficult path in the AFC Cup group play after it absorbed a telling 3-0 away loss to Felda United FC in Malaysia on April 4 that effectively dislodged it from the top of the heap in the group.

Against Felda, Ceres played from behind early after it surrendered a goal in the fifth minute care of striker Muhammad Syahid Zaidon, who connected from the top of the box.

Ceres did a steady job not allowing Felda to score any more points in the opening half but was once again pushed back in the second fold.

Felda’s second goal came in the 66th minute with midfielder Hadin firing a shot which went past Ceres goalkeeper Roland Muller to make it 2-nil.

The Malaysian team completed the rout with a 77th-minute goal from substitute Mohamad Fazrul Hazli.

Ceres acknowledged after the game that the early goal it surrendered messed up its game plan which it had a hard time recovering from.

Game time for the Ceres-Hanoi match is at 7:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the other club representing the Philippines in the AFC Cup, Global Cebu FC, also returns today in an away game in Yangon against home team Magwe FC.

Unlike Ceres though, Global (3-0-1 with nine points) looks to come up with a win to fortify its hold of the number one spot in Group F. “The People’s Club” is two points ahead of second place Johor Darul Ta’Zim (JDT), which holds a 2-1-1 record, and a victory over Magwe would allow it to remain ahead of its pursuers.

Global did its campaign a huge favor by winning, 3-2, over JDT on April 5 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

The two teams went toe-to-toe in the first 20 minutes of the contest before Global went on a scoring spree that proved to be the turning point of the contest.

Midfielder Dennis Villanueva started the scoring parade, finding the bottom of the net in the 27th minute which teammate Shu Sasaki added to five minutes later to extend their lead to 2-0.

Defender Amani Aguinaldo then joined the fray in the 35th minute to help Global mount a 3-0 advantage by halftime.

JDT, however, was not to bow down quietly, scoring its first goal of the match in the 49th minute care of forward Gabriel Guera.

The Malaysian team continued to press Global thereafter and narrowed its deficit some more with Mr. Guera scoring another goal in the 83rd minute.

That is the closest JDT would come though as Global would eventually hang on for the win.

“Our players need to continue to be aggressive. We must attack when the opportunity presents itself and pressure our opponents,” said Global’s Japanese coach Toshiaki Imai after their win, which incidentally was a payback for the 4-0 romp they were dealt by JDT in the previous game.

The Global-Magwe game is set for 5 p.m. in Myanmar.

In the AFC Cup, both Ceres and Global are angling to be one of the top three teams in the ASEAN groupings or the best second-ranked club in group play to advance to the next round.