Football Tribe SEA Editor
Filipino Champions Ceres-Negros pulled off a major upset in the second qualifying round of the AFC Champions League, eliminating Thai League side Port FC on their home turf to continue their continental adventure and set up a playoff date with Japanese side FC Tokyo.
Port came into the game with high expectations, having had a roaring transfer window which included taking prized asset Heberty Fernandes from Muangthong United. Widely expected to build on their third-place finish from last season with a title charge, Ceres admitted that their Thai opponents represented a major challenge.
However, the side looked ill-prepared for what was to come, struggling to sort out a coherent system. Heberty began the game as a striker before Adisak Kraisorn’s introduction upfront gave him more room to roam in the second half. Despite creating a number of chances, they were squandered by the likes of Sergio Suarez and Bodin Phala as
Meanwhile, Ceres had Stephan Schröck to thank for most of their attacking play, as the experienced midfielder pulled the strings for the entire team in the middle of the park.
The game’s pivotal moment came just before the hour mark, when a quick corner routine and a cross from Schröck caught Port goalkeeper Worawut Srisupha off guard, as his instant reaction saw him punch the ball into the back of his own net.
Ceres managed to hold on for the victory, even missing a golden three-on-one opportunity late in the second half before managing to survive thanks to their opponents’ failures to hit the target. The Filipino champions are set to compete in the playoff round for a second time in their history, having reached the same stage previously after pulling off an upset of similar magnitude against Brisbane Roar in 2018. They are one game away from making history and qualifying for the AFC Champions League group stage, but a trip to face the mighty FC Tokyo at the Ajinomoto Stadium makes those chances slim.
Meanwhile, the Klongtoey lions have just shy of a month to gear up for the domestic season. The impact of a preseason first distorted by the AFC scheduling then rattled by a confidence-crushing loss had a major impact on Bangkok United last season, so fans will be hoping that Port can learn from their rivals’ mistakes and be fit and fresh before the start of the 2020 season.