Home United suffer heartbreak in zonal final of AFC Cup
SINGAPORE — They were hoping to create history on Singapore’s 52nd birthday, but it was not to be for Home United as they fell to Ceres-Negros FC last night in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup Asean Zonal final.
With AFC Cup silverware and a semi-final spot at stake, the S.League side could not capitalise on their 2-1 first-leg lead from a week ago, as a near-capacity crowd at Bacolod City’s Panaad Park and Stadium cheered on the hosts to a 2-0 win, with Ceres claiming a 3-2 aggregate victory.
There was a nagging feeling after the first leg that a one-goal margin would be tough for Home to defend against a Ceres side that have not lost in their past 18 games on home soil, and it took just 90 seconds for Home’s advantage to be erased.
The Busmen came roaring off the blocks in their home fortress, and the ball was swiftly worked to Iain Ramsay and the winger’s left-wing cross landed perfectly at the far post for Jose Porteria to sidefoot in from close range.
The visitors looked overwhelmed and were fortunate not to overtaken after only 13 minutes when centre-back Abdil Qaiyyim was penalised for handball in the box.
However, striker Fernando Rodriguez embarrassingly shanked the spot-kick over the bar.
The Spaniard went on to miss two more gilt-edged opportunities in the first half with first goalkeeper Hassan Sunny denying him in a one-on-one situation in the 19th minute, before he put a free header wide from five metres on the half-hour mark.
Home then grew more into the game, though they were equally wasteful at the other end.
Khairul Nizam and Stipe Plazibat directed efforts straight at goalkeeper Roland Muller from promising positions, while Izzdin Shafiq’s free-kick in the 26th minute crashed off the Ceres bar.
But Ceres pushed on to find a second goal three minutes before half-time. Following a foul from Afiq Yunos on Porteria, the resulting free-kick was delightfully curled into the top right corner by Manuel Ott.
Home coach Aidil Sharin brought on Marijan Suto to boost their attack for the second half, but a side that had scored in all but one of their past 23 games struggled to find a way past Ceres’ yellow wall.
Their task was made harder as Risto Vidakovic looked to shut up shop with half an hour left, replacing Rodriguez with defender Kota Kawase.
As time ticked away for Home to find the goal required to take the game into extra time, Ceres suffered one last scare when Plazibat, scorer of 30 goals in 24 games this season, volleyed a loose ball onto the bar with eight minutes to go.
Substitute Bienvenido Maranon spurned the chance for a third by chipping the ball over with Hassan to beat in the 90th minute, but it did not matter as Ceres saw out a deserved victory to be crowned the first-ever AFC Cup Asean Zonal champions.
The Filipino side will next face Tajikistani side FC Istiklol, the competition’s runners-up in 2015, in the two-legged inter-zone play-off semi-finals on Aug 22 and Sept 12.