Philippine champion Ceres Negros FC guns for a historic spot in the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League when it tackles powerhouse FC Tokyo in the last preliminary round today at the Tokyo Stadium in Japan.
Eyeing to become the first Filipino squad to enter the group stage of Asia’s top club tournament, the Yellow Busmen challenge the Japanese giants at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. in the Philippines).
The winner will advance to Group F of the Champions League wherein South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai, China’s Shanghai Shenhua and Australia’s Perth Glory are already seeded.
Ceres Negros barged into the final playoff match after stunning Thai cup winner Port FC, 1-0, behind captain Stephan Schrock’s 51st minute goal last week at the PAT Stadium in Bangkok. The Filipino club downed Shan United FC of Myanmar, 3-2, on January 14 at home.
It was the second time that the three-time Philippines Football League titlist reached this stage. In 2018, the Busmen downed Shan and Brisbane Roar of Australia only to lose against Tianjin Quanjian of China.
With another shot at history, Ceres head coach Risto Vidakovic vowed to play all-out against all odds.
“It’s another very hard game, even harder than this one (versus Port). But for us, it’s an experience for the team,” said the Serbian tactician.
“It’s very hard especially for the Asean countries. It’s not easy to qualify. Because you play one game at home and another out of the country against very strong opponents where the budget is maybe seven times higher. But we’re going there to compete,” he added.
It will be a tall order for the Busmen indeed as FC Tokyo finished runner-up in Japan’s top flight J1 League last season, only behind Yokohama F. Marinos.
The Japanese club put on a 9-0 stomping of Thailand’s Chonburi FC when it last played in the Champions League playoff back in 2016.
Not helping Ceres’ cause is the suspension of Schrock, who was shown his second yellow card in the preliminary round with a hard tackle on Heberty Fernandes of Port.
OJ Porteria, Bienvenido Marañon and Robert Lopez Mendy are expected to step up in Schrock’s absence along with Mike Ott and Hikaru Minegishi.
Japanese defender Takashi Odawara, Super Herrera, Sean Kane and goalkeeper Roland Muller are tabbed to anchor the Busmen’s defense.