By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
AFC Cup Group G leader Ceres-Negros FC extended its lead on top of the heap after defeating Bali United FC, 4-0, in tournament action on Wednesday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Played behind closed doors over concerns on the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Ceres had its early struggles but once it got its groove it was simply not to be stopped.
The host team started the contest slow and hardly threatened the visiting squad.
But Ceres would finish the opening half strong with OJ Porteria connecting in the 35th minute to hand the “Busmen” the 1-0 lead, which they took all the way to the break.
Got the leverage it needed, Ceres started the reboot with added aggressiveness, with Bievenido Marañon doubling their lead in the 54th minute.
The Spanish striker did not stop there as 15 minutes later he scored another goal to create further separation, 3-0.
Bali United tried desperately to salvage the match but Ceres was not a willing party to it, making it a 4-0 lead in the 73rd minute care of Robert Lopez Mendy.
From there the Busmen were not to be threatened as they went on to bag the win.
Despite the comfortable lead they had in the end, Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic said it was not an easy game to win.
“It was not an easy game but I think after the first goal things opened up for us. We got better chances and went for them,” said Mr. Vidakovic following their match.
On playing behind closed doors, Ceres veteran Stephan Schrock said there was some weirdness to it but completely understood the situation.
“Despite the closed doors I’m very happy for the team. I think in the second half we played well and knew better what we had to do. We fought hard and we won,” said Mr. Schrock, who was named “Mr. Football” at the recent Annual Philippine Sportswriters Association Awards.
With its victory over Bali United, Ceres (2-1-0) now has seven points from three matches to date. Three clear from second-running Than Quang Ninh (1-1-1) of Vietnam.
Bali United slumped to a 1-0-2 record with three points and good for fourth place.
Third in Group G with three points is Preah Kahn Reach Svay Rieng FC (1-0-2) of Cambodia.
Ceres reengages Bali United in its next game in Bali on April 14.
Leader on the board after group play in the AFC Cup books a spot in the zonal semifinals.