By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THREE-TIME Philippines Football League (PFL) champion Ceres-Negros FC returns to international competition as it opens its AFC Cup 2020 campaign here at home today against visiting Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC of Cambodia.
Set for 7:30 p.m. at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila, the Group G match will see the “Busmen” try to open their bid on a winning note to set the right tone for them in the tournament.
The match is the first of three straight home matches for Ceres in the AFC Cup with the team also set to face group mates Than Quang Ninh of Vietnam on Feb. 25 and Indonesian champion Bali United on March 11.
The match versus Than Quang Ninh was supposed to be an away match but with the Vietnamese government’s decision to bar any sports event in light of the ongoing novel Coronavirus (nCoV) acute respiratory disease outbreak the game was rescheduled to be played here instead.
All of the home games of Ceres in group play will be played at the Rizal Memorial as its home turf of Panaad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City is currently unavailable.
Playing at home, Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic underscored the need for them to take advantage of the situation so as to pad their push for a solid top two finish in the grouping to advance to the next phase of the competition.
“There are no secrets when we play because the information is always available so we have to focus on our strengths,” said Mr. Vidakovic in the lead-up to today’s match.
“It’s a really tough group again for us, so the players really have to raise their level. Playing at home hopefully gives us a good start,” added the coach, whose team is coming off a strong push in the AFC Champions League where it came just a win away from advancing to the main draw of the premier club tournament in Asia organized by the Asian Football Confederation.
In last year’s edition of the AFC Cup, Ceres advanced to the ASEAN semifinals before losing to Ha Noi FC of Vietnam, 3-2.
The year prior, it was able to reach the ASEAN finals but lost to Home United FC of Singapore, 3-1, and in 2017, it was the AZEAN Zonal champion and advanced to the Inter-zone semifinals.
In their game against Svey Rieng, the Busmen will get added ammunition with the return of midfielder Manny Ott.
Spent time in the Thai league last season, Mr. Ott will see action again for Ceres and looks to help the team in its quest.
“It feels good to be back home. I’m just trying to settle in the last few days, but I’m looking forward to the match on Tuesday,” said Mr. Ott.