|Kings of Southeast Asia: Ceres Negros bucked a first leg deficit to run riot on Home United, punching the final ticket of the Interzone playoff of the AFC Cup. (photo by Lagardère Sports/AFC)|
By Kevin Estrada
MANILA--In the biggest test in its five-year history, PFL pioneer Ceres Negros bucked a two-goal deficit in the first leg to claim the ASEAN Zone title in the AFC Cup after downing S-League's Home United in the return leg in Bacolod's Panaad on Wednesday night.
A first half onslaught was enough for manager Risto Vidakovic as the Busmen won 2-0 on the night--3-2 on aggregate--to take the final seat of the Interzonal playoffs, in which 2015 runners-up and Tajik league champs Istiklol awaits them in Dushanbe's Pamir 13 days from now.
OJ Porteria repaid the trust the Serbian gave to him by putting the home side in front just two minutes into the match, poking in Iain Ramsay's cross on the volley from close range past Hassan Sunny to send the City of Smiles grinning to a dream start.
Outshooting the Protectors by five despite the deficit in possession, Ceres did not lower their attacking intent from then on but they could not convert their chances to keep the Singaporean side at bay, with Spanish forward Fernando Rodriguez the most guilty in the opening stretch.
Rodriguez muffed three chances to pad to their lead, including a poorly taken penalty and was also stopped by Singapore's number 1 on a one-on-one chance.
Despite those missed chances Manny Ott fired the Busmen ahead for good in the 42nd minute with a beautifully placed free kick to the top right corner that left Sunny no chance to send them home and hosed at the break.
Home became desparate in the stretch and almost found the ball into the net but Roland Muller made himself huge as he became the parked bus in front of Ceres goal as it was proven in his 82nd-minute stop on Stipe Plazibat that needed a hit from the crossbar to preserve the clean sheet, and more importantly, write another chapter in a magical history book of Pinoy club football.
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