By Jonas Terrado
Ceres-Negros put on a gallant effort but it was not enough to defeat crack Japanese side FC Tokyo 2-0 Tuesday night and fall short of its bid to enter the group stage of the AFC Champions League.
The Busmen, who was hoping to score a stunning upset, conceded both goals in the second half as Sei Muroya and Adailton scored for FC Tokyo amid wet conditions at the Ajinomoto Stadium in the Japanese capital.
FC Tokyo earned the right to take one of the final slot in the group stage of Asia’s top-tier club competition while relegating Ceres back to the second-tier AFC Cup.
The Philippines Football League and Copa Paulino Alcantara winners flirted at the possibility of becoming the first Philippine club to reach the Champions League following victories over Myanmar’s Shan United and Thailand’s Port FC.
Coach Risto Vidakovic’s men entered the playoff round as heavy underdog, with midfielder Stephan Schrock serving a ban for accumulated cards.
Despite Schrock’s absence, Ceres was able to bring a goalless tie into halftime. However, Tokyo delivered the opener three minutes after the restart when Muroya scored off the hands of Busmen keeper Roland Muller.
Ceres gained an advantage when FC Tokyo was reduced to 10 men when Taichi Hara was given a straight red in the 78th. However, the Busmen failed to capitalize and Adailton later produced the second goal on a counterattack.
Ceres opens its AFC Cup campaign in mid-February in Group C along with Vietnam’s Than Quang Ninh, Indonesia’s Bali United and the winner of the two-legged playoff between Cambodia’s Svay Rieng and Laos’ Master 7.