By Jonas Terrado
Ceres-Negros is determined to take advantage of having to play its first three matches on home soil as it aims for an improved showing in the AFC Cup.
The Philippines Football League and Copa Paulino Alcantara champions begin their Group G campaign Tuesday against Cambodia’s Svey Rieng, followed by a Feb. 25 date with Vietnam’s Than Quang Ninh and a meeting with Indonesia’s Bali United on March 11.
All home games will be played at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, the same venue used when Ceres defeated Myanmar’s Shan United 3-2 in last month’s AFC Champions League Qualifiers.
“We’re counting on the support of Filipino football fans in our matches at Rizal Memorial Stadium,” said Ceres star midfielder Stephan Schrock.
Of the three home matches, the clash with Than Quang Ninh was supposed to be held in Vietnam but the Asian Football Confederation had to move the game to Manila after the country banned holding sporting events in reaction to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Coach Risto Vidakovic is banking on the team’s strength in order to boost Ceres’ chances of making the ASEAN zonal semifinals.
The three group winners from the Southeast Asian region and the best second placers advance to the zonal semis.
“There are no secrets when we play because the information is always available so we have to focus on our strengths,” said Vidakovic. “It’s a really tough group again for us, so the players really have to raise their level. Playing at home hopefully gives us a good start.”
Ceres enters the tourney with a familiar figure in Manny Ott, who returns to the club after a short spell with Thai first division side Ratchaburi.