Its fairytale run in the AFC Cup may have ended last Tuesday, but Ceres-Negros is taking comfort at the fact that the country has created ripples in an event where Philippine clubs only started joining three years ago.
The Busmen made history by becoming the first Asean zone champion of the competition, punching beyond their weight as they bested more established clubs in Vietnamese champion Hanoi FC, Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia and Home United of Singapore.
But they were stopped in their tracks by Istiklol of Tajikistan in the inter-zone semifinals with a 1-1 draw last Tuesday at Panaad Stadium. Ceres was one of the last six teams from an initial roster of 52 from 29 countries.
The 0-4 defeat in Dushanbe last month proved too tough to overcome for the Busmen, who came out with a more attack-minded approach in the second leg only to find Istiklol in solid form defensively.
“When we started the season, we didn’t expect to get this far (in the competition),” said Ceres club chair Leo Rey Yanson. “We’re happy we made history and gave Philippine football the respect it deserves in the AFC Cup.”
A return to the continental competition remains up in the air for the Busmen since only the Philippines Football League champion is assured of a spot in the tournament next year.
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