It’s back! At long last, the AFC Cup is back tomorrow and it begins with two familiar foes pitting their wits against each other once again. That’s right, Ceres host Home United after the pair of them came up against each other in the group stages this season as well. You’ll recall that their last meeting left a bittersweet taste in my mouth after I came to the realisation that Ceres had possibly rigged the game. Of course, I have no proof so I can’t do much about it, nevertheless, it definitely wasn’t right.

The winner of this two-legged tie will be crowned champions of South East Asia and also face the daunting prospect of a trip to North Korea. That’s right, whoever wins this faces 4.25 SC over two legs in the inter-zone semi-finals later this month. Not sure about you, but if I was Ceres, I’d consider fixing this game as well. Enough of the accusations, let’s flashback and see how both sides made it this far. We’ll skip over the group stage and just focus on both sides respective knockout games.

Ceres See Off Yangon, Just

I remember this game well. The first leg saw the beginning of the magnificent battle between Bienve and Sylla. Bienve got the Filipino side up and running with a goal just before the half-hour mark. After Ceres strapped into the driving seat, Reichelt and Bienve seemingly put the Bacolod-side out of reach when the referee sounded his whistle for the break. 3-0 and cruising. Sylla had other ideas, though. He made it 3-1 ten minutes into the second-half, Super made it 4-1 before Sylla got a goal in the last ten minutes to give Yangon a potentially crucial second away goal.

Nine Yellow Cards, Two Red Cards & Five Goals

A 4-2 thriller is hard to live up to. Somehow, Yangon & Ceres managed to do just that as there was action aplenty in Myanmar. When Uchida put Yangon one-nil up with the game only two minutes young, you knew it was going to be a barnstorming game. At that point, Yangon only needed one more goal to progress. Fat chance. Manuel Ott put Ceres back in the ascendancy with an eighth-minute equaliser. Perhaps the most surprising thing of all was that there wasn’t another goal until the 78th-minute. You know who. Bienve. He then got sent off for his celebration which I’m still trying to figure out now. Most strange. Two late goals from Soe and Sylla meant that Yangon came agonisingly close to forcing extra time, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Home United Stun Persija

The whole point of the ‘match-fixing’ from Ceres was so they would avoid Persija until as late as possible. Home United didn’t care. They ultimately made light work of the Indonesian side, as well. Home United starting like a Japanese bullet train as they raced into a two-goal lead within ten minutes. A Abdurrahaman own goal accompanied with a Ui-young strike ensured that Home United took control. Well, it seemed like they had control. It was 2-2 shortly after halftime as Lestaluhu scored either side of the interval. Against the run of play, Nor gave Home United an invaluable winner with eleven minutes left. While it was a good result for Home United, it meant that if Persija won 1-0 in Indonesia, Persija would qualify by virtue of away goals.

Ishak Steals The Show

Nobody, myself included, gave Home United a chance in Jakarta. So, naturally, Home United took the lead via Ishak’s first of the evening after only six minutes. That wasn’t part of Persija’s plan. Simic levelled three minutes later, maybe it was back on. After all, Persija only needed a goal to qualify. Nope. Ishak doubled his tally for the game and Home United had Persija exactly where they wanted them. When Jaime picked up his second yellow card eight minutes before halftime, it was game over.  Ui-young kept up his good form just before the interval to put the cherry on top of a wonderful Home United performance.

What Does The Form Book Say?

Ceres are very, very good at home. If we look at the AFC Cup in isolation, the recently-crowned Filipino champions are formidable in the Philippines. Soccerway shows me fourteen home games that Ceres have played at home in the AFC Cup and they’ve only lost two of them. The thing is, one of them was against Home United. Omen? Maybe. The other game they lost was after extra time so I don’t suppose you can really count that. One loss in fourteen. This time, you’d imagine Ceres will actually try as well.

On the other side of the coin, Home United are indifferent at best when it comes to playing away in the AFC Cup. In a similar fashion to Ceres, Home United have only lost thrice in ten games. One of those losses? Yep, against Ceres. At present, Home United are averaging at least two goals a game away from home, so whatever happens, you can guarantee there will be goals. Cue 0-0!

Quote O’Clock

It’s now time to have a look at what a player from each side has said in the run-up to this game. We’ll begin with Ceres’ Manny Ott as they’re the home side. As everyone else is, he’s only too aware at how much of a blow the suspension of Bienve is.

“I guess by now everyone knows how important Bienve is for the team. He scored many goals in the competition last year and is doing it again this year, but it’s a team sport and we have good enough players who can compensate for him. It’s unfortunate that he can’t play, but I’m confident that we have the quality in the squad to come up with a good game plan.”

Manny was then questioned regarding that game against Home United from earlier in the campaign…

“Yes it wasn’t our best performance, but I remember also that we didn’t take our chances in that game. But it’s a good game for us to analyse and see what we did wrong and not repeat it for the final series.”

What Would It Mean To Manny?

He’s played it safe with the answer, let’s give him credit for that. The last question Manny was asked was all to do with what it would mean for him if Ceres were crowned ASEAN zonal champions for a second consecutive season.

“I have been with the club for four years and being in the ASEAN Zonal finals again shows how much the club has been growing and trying to establish itself in the ASEAN region as one of the top teams.
Personally, being able to participate in competitions like the AFC Cup where you have teams from other countries and leagues is a joy and a good way to measure yourself. I’m enjoying the challenges.
We’re going in a good direction for Philippine football with the upcoming AFF Cup and next year our first appearance in the AFC Asian Cup with the national team, but there’s still a long way ahead for the Philippines to catch up with nations like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The league has been challenging and has had its issues, but with our title defence in AFC it would be a huge push and stamp on the map for the club and the league.”

Izzdin Shafiq Was Banging The Home United Drum

In the Home United corner, we’ve got Izzdin Shafiq. He was also asked about the last time the sides met. It’s almost as if he knows Ceres fixed it…

“It’s always a good feeling to defeat your opponents at their home ground, especially so when Ceres had not been defeated at the home ground for the past two years in the AFC Cup. But this time round, will be different because we are fighting for the Zonal title. Every team wants to be crowned ASEAN champions. So for the first leg, we must get a good result in Bacolod, so that when we play at our home ground, we will go into the game high in confidence.”

One of Home United’s star players in their AFC Cup run has undoubtedly been Song Ui-young, you only have to look at the two games against Persija to see his worth. What does Manny think about Song?

“Playing with him makes my job a little easier because we understand each other. We both know what are our roles during a match. Sometimes we don’t even need to communicate verbally; simply just by observation, we already know what to expect from one another. He is a player with exceptional quality and technique. He is also physically strong and very comfortable with the ball at his feet. I love to play with him.“

We Will Be Making Our Nation Proud

In the interest of transparency, let’s see what it would mean to Izzdin if Home United were to beat Ceres…

“It means a great deal to us as a team and as a player; We can make a name for ourselves. We can also look back and realise that we have achieved something big in our footballing career. It also means a lot to the club as we will be making history. More importantly, we will (be) making our nation proud since we are inevitably representing our country, adding greater meaning to the AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal title.”

Interesting stuff.

One More Thing

If I was a betting man and luckily I am, I’d be backing Ceres to win and both teams to score tomorrow. Unfortunately, due to the nature of what happened last time (Home United were 7/1 to win), the game isn’t listed with any bookmakers. Am I surprised? Not at all.

Until the next time.