JOHOR Darul Ta'zim defended its home turf in the face of a resolute Ceres Negros FC attack, holding on for a 3-2 win in the first leg of the AFC Cup zonal semifinals on Wednesday night in Johor.
Hazwan Bakri scored the match winner for the home team in the 64th minute of a game blessed with a flurry of amazing goals from both ends of the pitch.
Hazwan picked the ball up from the top right corner of the pitch, turned, and then fired a screamer that was slightly deflected by Roland Muller but went into the net anyway.
The Busmen had one more chance late to go level, but the Southern Tigers managed to hold on thanks to some big defensive plays by Marcos Antonio.
"The third goal was very unlucky but we still have a game to go," said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic, looking forward to hosting the return leg in Bacolod.
"We had a lot of chances today but they played really well, too. It's not easy. We don't have much experience in this. We'll see what we can do in Bacolod and it will not be easy for them also," he added.
Gonzalo Cabrera opened the scoring for the hosts with a fine solo strike in the 18th minute but Fernando Rodrigues quickly took that back for the Busmen with an amazing diving header in the 21st minute.
The visitors then went ahead courtesy of Bienve Maranon with his own sublime solo goal off the counter as he rammed the ball into the top corner past Farizal.
Just when the tide started to turn for the Negros side, Safiq Rahim scored the equalizer with his own header, with a minute left in the first half.
Though Ceres wasn't victorious, the Busmen will be coming back to Panaad on May 30 with two away goals.
That means if Ceres wins with a 1-0 or a 2-1 result in Bacolod, then they go through to the finals.
Other than those results, the Busmen need to win by two goals to advance.