CERES Negros is one win away from making Philippine football history but in order to do so, the reigning PFL champions must scale a much bigger mountain.
Standing in the way of the Busmen and the history books is Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian when the two teams vie for a spot in the 2018 AFC Champions League set on Tuesday at the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium.
The Negrense side did the improbable when it shocked A-League squad Brisbane Roar, 3-2, in Australia last week in what is arguably the biggest win from a local club team from the country
Bienve Maranon scored twice while Omid Nazari wrapped things up with a goal of his own to become the first Philippine team to make it through to the knockout stage of the qualifiers.
“I’m really proud of my players especially because we are not prepared for these kinds of games,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic as his club was just two weeks into their preseason preparations.
“I’m really proud of them. They played 90 minutes, they fought and I think we deserved to win,” he added.
But facing Tianjin, one of the rising teams in the Chinese Superleague, could be Ceres’ toughest test yet.
Playing in the first division for the first time in 2017, Tianjin immediately made impact as it finished third in the table after winning the second division in 2016.
Big names such Brazilian Alexandre Pato and Belgian Axel Witsel will be leading the attack for the Chinese club and will be bringing tons of experience against the Philippine side.
Pato made a name for himself after spending seven years with Serie A club AC Milan, notching 51 goals in the Italian league in 117 appearances.
Witsel, on the other hand, had stints in Portugal and Russia and has been a mainstay of the Belgium National Football team, playing in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 UEFA European Championship.
“We have to treat the Tianjin game like Brisbane,” said Vidakovic.
“We have to enjoy it. Try to compete with them and don’t play with any pressure. That’s the good thing for us, whatever we do, if we get a good result, for us it’s a plus,” he added.
The winner in the match will qualify in Group E where two time AFC Champions League winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC of Korea and premier Hong Kong squad Kitchee await.
Also joining that group would be the winner of the match between Japanese squad Kashiwa Reysol and Thai club Muangthong United.