By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
REIGNING AFC Cup ASEAN winner Ceres-Negros FC gets to defend its title after booking a return trip to the final on the strength of going on top on aggregate despite losing to Yangon United FC, 3-2 in the second leg of their semifinal matchup on Wednesday.
Taking the first leg of their semis pairing, 4-2, on May 9 in Bacolod City, the “Busmen” advanced to the next round of the competition, 6-5, on aggregate to survive the spirited challenge from the home team at the Thuwunna Stadium in Myanmar.
Yangon got off to a strong start in its attempt to make up for the two goals they gave away in the first leg, with Kosuke Yamazaki scoring two minutes into the contest.
But Ceres would immediately set right its ship as Manny Ott levelled the count at 1-1 six minutes later.
The hosts continued to put pressure on Ceres as the opening half progressed but the latter’s defense would hold steady to keep the score tied.
Bievenido Maranon then made it 2-1 for Ceres when he left-footed the ball to the net in the 78th minute.
The Spanish striker, however, would be tossed after for what was deemed to be taunting as he celebrated his goal.
His actions nearly sparked a brawl between the two sides. When control was established, Mr. Maranon was handed a red card.
The turn of events provided Yangon something to rally behind.
Aee Soe made it 2-2 in the 83rd minute before teammate Sekou Sylla pushed to 3-2 for Yangon in the 87th minute.
Yangon scrambled to add more goals and erase Ceres’ lead on aggregate but the latter would hold firm for the remainder of regulation and added time to secure its place in the final.
“It was a game we were expecting. We knew they would do well here. But I’m super proud of my team. We stuck together and played with much professionalism,” said Martin Steuble after the match.
“It was not our best game but we are satisfied. We came here to win a spot in the finals and we were able to that,” he added.
In the ASEAN Zonal Final, Ceres will face Home United FC of Singapore, which defeated Persija Jakarta in their own semifinals, 6-3, on aggregate.
The ASEAN Zonal Final will be played in August.