With the hopes of continuing their momentum from a magnificent feat last season by claiming their first domestic double, Ceres-Negros FC dispatched Shan United at the Rizal Memorial Stadium to progress to the next stage of the AFC Champions League qualifiers.
In a night full of drama, action, and of course, goals, the three-time Philippines Football League champions were the ones left standing 90 minutes securing a match with Port FC in Thailand on the 21st of January.
Without further ado, we now to Tito Jay‘s Five takeaways of the match.
1) Slowly getting their groove back
It has been a long break for the busmen heading into their preliminary stage match against Shan United as they needed quite a long rest as well due to the fatigue that the season has brought to them.
Though they secured their third straight PFL title with ample games on hand, it’s still worth noting that they had the pedal to the metal until the end of the season.
They were able to give some of their star players like Super and Bienve some rest, but their other pivotal players like Stephan Schröck and Mike Ott had to endure a couple more club matches in the Copa Paulino Alcantara and their national team duties.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem like it when they went out on the pitch the first time in two months and with a revamped squad that boasts the presence of Hikaru Minegeshi, Joshua Grommen and Mark Hartmann, one can only say that the big boys are here again to give us some entertaining football.
The busmen started out strong as they were able to get their opening goal just five minutes into the match thanks to Robert Lopez Mendy’s effort from a pass coming from Minigeshi.
A barrage of the attack came from Ceres-Negros FC in the first half but Shan United’s morale was not dampened by the opening goal. However, on the 40th minute, it seemed like the busmen got their insurance goal that came from Marañon only to find out that they will be in for a scare in the second half.
A more replenished Shan United came out on the pitch at the start of the second half as they were able to fend off quite a number of attempts from the home side and making their presence felt as well by stringing a couple of passes and making their way into the opposition’s territory.
It took 35 minutes for the visitors to crack the busmen’s code when Zim Min Tun was found free inside the box to head the ball past Roland Muller. Despite the slip-up, OJ Porteria, the man of the match, scored his side’s third goal and regain a two-goal margin against the Shan United.
The three-time PFL champions were once again threatened by Shan United as they were able to pull another goal back this time from Djedje Maximin Djawa.
The visitors almost mounted an impossible comeback had they had enough time on their side. This showed that towards the latter stages of the match, the busmen slowed down a bit and exposed their weaknesses.
“We have players who are experienced, we have players who are fresh. We showed a lot of heart. A fair result today,” said Porteria during the post-match presser.
It was a gritty effort from the home side to hold off any possible equalizers from the opposition but I’m pretty sure they will continue to work hard and they will do their best to avoid the mistakes they done against Shan United.
2) Hungry Pika went for a Pika-Nic
After spending two seasons away from the Philippines, Hikaru Minegeshi found his way back to the country and possibly found the fountain of life with the busmen.
He spent two seasons in Thailand and though basing it with his playing time for Pattaya United in 2018 and Changmai United in 2019, he missed playing some top-flight action.
Last night’s performance was an absolute revelation. It gave us a glimpse of the past and a window to the future. Give him more time as a starter and he’ll definitely wave his magic wand.
Minegeshi exploited the opposition’s weaknesses and was almost unstoppable as he tried to make his way into the scoresheet. Though his name won’t appear with the goalscorers, he made sure that he will not go unnoticed.
The 28-year old winger provided the goods for Mendy to pounce on in the fifth minute of the match. An incisive run from Minegeshi down the left flank opened up the defence. He then crossed the ball to the path of Mendy who then half-volleyed the shot into the back of the net.
In the 21st minute, Minegeshi almost provided another goal for the busmen but Marañon wasn’t able to finish it. The play started with Mendy intercepting the ball inside Shan United’s box, Pika got to it and gave a gorgeous through-ball for Bienve but his weak-footed effort sailed past the post.
He came close to scoring in the 30th minute of the match when he left the defenders behind but his shot was blocked by Daniel Tagoe.
Minegeshi would continue to pester the opposition’s defensive line in the second half where took a crack on Thina Sithu but the Burmese keeper kept the ball in his grasp.
All that we saw in Minegeshi last night was the fire in his eyes, his desire to play again and the hard work that brought him to where he is now. Surely, the big bosses of Ceres-Negros FC are now smiling as Pika showed them that they did not make a mistake in bringing him in the squad.
3) The Rampaging Mendy
He’s been all over the pitch, threatening the opponent’s defence and making the goalkeeper work every time he takes a shot on goal.
Robert Lopez-Mendy continued his great run of form from the latter part of the 2019 season to their match against Shan United. He showed us how good he is in terms of positioning and finding the right spaces to attack the opposition.
As early as the fifth minute of the match, Ceres-Negros FC’s midseason signing made his way to the scoresheet and proved his true worth.
He was a recipient as well of numerous passes from midfield but he’s just lacking some finishing. Mendy also got close to scoring his second goal of the match in the 75th minute.
Mendy ran past the defenders and had just the goalkeeper to beat when out of nowhere, Daniel Tagoe slid in for the tackle. Calls for a penalty arise but the referee easily waived them off.
His huge size and tenacity in front of the goal were just simply mesmerizing and if he continues this run of form, he’ll definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the next stages of the competition.
4) Marañon’s tactical flexibility
Bienvenido Marañon’s contribution to Ceres-Negros’ victory over Shan United was not just about the goal he scored. It was also about his tactical awareness to provide the goods for the busmen.
Coach Risto Vidakovic opted to play a 4-3-3 formation against Shan United to help Hikaru Minegeshi ease into the busmen’s system and it worked wonders not only for the new signing but also for the ever-reliable Marañon.
It looked like the formation served to anchor Mendy upfront but little did Shan United knew, it was a ploy to give Marañon acres of spaces from the right while waiting for the ball.
In the sequence leading into their second goal of the match, the 33-year old forward was made his way inside the box when OJ Porteria ran down the right flank who then sent the ball inside the box for Marañon to pounce on.
A simple first-time shot from the lethal Spaniard gave the home side the two-goal advantage and allowed them to breathe from all the pressure that Shan United’s been putting on them.
It was also Marañon’s effort that allowed Ceres-Negros FC to regain their two-goal margin over the visitors through Porteria. After getting past the opposition down the right-wing, Marañon crossed the ball inside the box.
A deflection from Mike Ott allowed Porteria fire one home and sent the crowd to pandemonium.
It goes to show that at any given position, Marañon can still prove to be dangerous and pivotal for the busmen’s quest for glory in the intercontinental stages.
5) Continuing the momentum
Despite the situation caused by the recent eruption of the Taal Volcano, and the fact that the match was scheduled at the second workday of the week, 3,704 football fans flocked the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium to witness greatness.
This is a testament that football is now beginning to flourish again in the country following the recent success of our U-22s and women’s team in the recently concluded 2019 SEA Games.
It was a good thing that Filipino football fans didn’t have to wait for a long time to enjoy another thrilling game of football as it was just like a month ago when we noticed a jampacked Rizal Stadium thanks to our neighbours Vietnam and Indonesia when they went up against each other in the gold medal match of the region’s biennial meet.
Thanks as well to Ultras Ceres, whose members travelled across the sea just to witness their beloved busmen create history as a possible entry of the Philippines to the continent’s biggest and grandest club competition.
This country has the potential of being passionate about this sport given the success we’ve had over the recent years and, thanks as well to Ceres-Negros FC, the Philippines can now be respected not only in the national team standpoint but also in terms of club football.
Tito Jay has only one wish though. I wish that Filipino football fans continue this kind of support to our clubs and national teams not just because they are winning but also because they are doing their best to increase awareness about the sport and the level of competition here in the country.