CERES Negros FC starts its bid to reach the AFC Champions League when it takes on Shan United in the qualifying playoffs on Jan. 14 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Port and FC Tokyo wait in the stepladder playoff, but first Ceres needs to hurdle Shan United, a perennial opponent in the regional competitions such as the AFC Cup.
Ceres manager Risto Vidakovic said the club began training on Monday in preparation for the match against the Myanmar side.
“The only thing we can promise is we are going to fight in order to reach the next round,” said Vidakovic during Tuesday’s Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum at the Amelie Hotel. “It’s a very hard competition we are facing but we are going to try to give our best. I hope we can reach the third round at least.”
Ceres made it to the qualifying round of the AFC Champions League as winner of last year’s Philippines Football League (PFL).
Stephan Schrock hopes the Busmen can get over the hump this time. In 2018, Ceres reached the third round and needed one more win to advance into the main tournament only to lose to Chinese club Tianjian Quanjian, 2-0.
“It’s our first game after a long break,” said Schrock, who recently played for the Young Azkals in the Southeast Asian Games. “Two years ago, we made it to the third round. Let’s see if this year, we can surprise other teams in the first two games.”
Ceres beat Shan United in a shootout, 4-3, in the first round qualifying playoffs in 2018. The Busmen also won twice against the Myanmar club in the AFC Cup 2019.
Vidakovic said it is difficult to assess the upcoming match because of their unfamiliarity with Shan.
“First game is always hard and very difficult. They have very new players especially the foreigners so it’s a different team that we faced in Myanmar,” said Vidakovic. “They have different players. We don’t know what we can expect because like us, they haven’t played any game. We don’t know anything about them and how they play.”