CERES-NEGROS FC’s bid to make it to a third straight AFC Cup ASEAN Zone finals fell short on Tuesday night after losing, 2-1, to Hanoi FC in the second leg of their zonal semifinals at the Hang Day Stadium in Vietnam.

Had a narrower road to work with following the 1-1 draw it was forced into on June 18 in the first leg at its home turf of Panaad Park and Football Stadium, Ceres fought gallantly to make things happen but eventually bowed down to lose, 3-2, in aggregate.

The defeat meant that the 2017 ASEAN champions “Busmen” would miss the finals for the first time in three years. Last year, they fell to Home United FC of Singapore in the championship with an aggregate score of 3-1.

On Tuesday, host Hanoi was on top of things early, putting the pressure on Ceres with solid opportunities to score.

But Ceres would hold its own, not allowing any breakthrough in the opening half to keep the score at nil-nil at the halfway point of the contest.

Hanoi’s perseverance and aggressiveness eventually paid off in the 59th minute when forward Pape Omar Faye found the bottom of the net off a cross from teammate Nguyen Van Quyet to make it 1-0 in their favor.

Five minutes later, Hanoi doubled its lead care of Mr. Van Quyet, who punctured the ball past Ceres goalkeeper Roland Muller.

Ceres saw its back against the wall after going down, 2-0.

But instead of just rolling down and die, the Busmen dug deep and tried to make a comeback.

They took the fight to their opponents and were rewarded with a goal in the 85th minute from substitute Curt Dizon to narrow the gap, 2-1.

Ceres kept the pressure all the way the end but no comeback would be fashioned out as Hanoi held on tight for the win that sent it to the finals.

As of this writing, Hanoi was waiting which between Becamex Binh Duong of Vietnam and PSM Makassar of Indonesia it would face.

Becamex and PSM Makassar were to play the second leg of their semifinals yesterday in Bogor with the former winning the first leg, 1-0.

Ceres now returns to the Philippines Football League where it is the defending champion.

In three games to date, Ceres (2-1-0) has seven points to show for, good for fourth spot.

Ceres plays on Saturday, June 29, against Mendiola FC 1991 (0-1-3) at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium at 7 p.m.

Other PFL games on said date are Stallion Laguna FC versus Global Cebu FC at 3:30 p.m. at the Biñan Football Stadium and Kaya FC-Iloilo against Philippine Air Force FC at 4 p.m. at Rizal Memorial. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo